‘Warriors banned the myth of altitude’

The Glasgow Warriors players celebrate with the United Rugby Championship trophy at Loftus Versfeld. Photo: BackpagePix

The Glasgow Warriors players celebrate with the United Rugby Championship trophy at Loftus Versfeld. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Jun 24, 2024


Franco Smith is a seasoned campaigner, having played and coached across the globe.

But it seems as if he has a special bond with Scotland. He made his Springbok debut at Murrayfield in December 1997, as Nick Mallett’s team won 68-10, and now he’s won his first major international trophy as a coach with the Glasgow Warriors.

Saturday night’s gripping 21-16 United Rugby Championship triumph over the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld was a homecoming of sorts for the 51-year-old Smith, who played out of Pretoria for a good few years after leaving Griquas.

It is where he spent most of his career as a Springbok, and now it was the scene of his finest moment as a coach.

Smith is regarded as a serious guy who doesn’t drop his guard often, but just as he was as a player, he has a creative approach to the game that was borne out by his determined Glasgow side that absorbed every punch thrown by Jake White’s Bulls in the first half, and then they delivered a flurry themselves to deservedly lift the trophy.

“To win in different countries, travel here (from Limerick)... I know the pride in this stadium and played here before, so that rates top. I’m definitely convinced that it would be hard to beat this feeling,” Smith smiled.

“We always talk about a hard edge in Scottish rugby players, and tonight the boys proved just that. They could come here and play a South African team on home soil in front of 52 000 supporters and then still win, in the way we did, is a special accolade to the men.

“We had a saying during the season that we don’t have to lose to learn, and they’ve embraced that mentality and are pushing their limits, boundaries and perimeters that’s expected at this level.

“Obviously really proud about the way they went about their business, and the way that they’ve bought into the plan.”

Smith, who has coached Shimlas, the Cheetahs, Treviso and Italy before taking charge of Glasgow – having also been the Springbok backline coach on an interim basis in 2016 and 2017 – said that his team won the game by facing the Bulls’ physicality head-on.

“We were going to meet them physically – I know they want to bully you here... I have personal experience of it! I knew if we fronted up physically and applied pressure instead of just absorbing it,” he said.

“We wanted more width in our game, and we got it with Huw Jones’ try in the end, as we didn’t win the lineouts like we should.

“We knew that if we defensively front-up, we would take their initiative away. And with the kicking game, we tried to take that space away instead of kicking too long.

“We said we are not going to use the travel as an excuse, or the altitude. We just needed to act for what we wanted.

“They didn’t look for excuses, and now banned the myth that altitude changes the outcome.”