Having worked as assistant coach with the Springboks since 2016 – simultaneously acting as director of rugby for the Cheetahs – he will now go all in with the Bloemfontein-based club.
Smith will hold the role of director of rugby and head coach, taking over from Rory Duncan, who joins Worcester Warriors ahead of the next campaign.
It’s a role that Smith has been in before, taking over as Cheetahs head coach in 2015 and seeing them go from fifth in the South African Super Rugby Conference up to third in 2016.
The 45-year-old, who made nine Test appearances for South Africa between 1997-99, was then asked to join Rassie Erasmus’ Springboks coaching set-up at the end of 2016, having played together for the Rainbow Nation.
But after two years with the national side, Smith decided to stay with the Cheetahs full-time and will take the helm once more at the start of the 2018/19 season.
I am very excited about the future of the Guinness Pro14 series and about what we can offer young players here in the Free State, “said Franco Smith, director of rugby
— Cheetahs Fan Support (@FanCheetahs) March 1, 2018
Not changing his spots
With a World Cup around the corner, some may have questioned Smith’s decision.
However, his professional rugby career started at the Cheetahs in 1992, making his debut against Western Transvaal in Round Two of the 1992 Lion Cup competition.
He then returned to the club in 2005 after spells in Wales with Newport and Italy with Bologna and Treviso.
His first foray into coaching also came at the Cheetahs, joining the staff as backs coach in 2006 following his retirement.
It was in Italy that Smith saw the majority of his success, with a familiar Guinness PRO14 side.
He joined Benetton Rugby in 2002 and made 60 appearances for the side over three seasons, during which he won the National Championship of Excellence twice and the Coppa Italia.
His first taste of the head coach role also came with the Italians, taking over in 2007 and leading them to more successes, including two National Championship of Excellence titles, a Coppa Italia and Italian Supercup.
Smith will come up against his old Italian friends next season and will be hoping to overcome them, with the ultimate aim of building on the Cheetahs’ encouraging first season in the Guinness PRO14.
Finishing third in Conference A and reaching the semi-final qualifier, the South Africans have been a welcome addition to the competition.
But Smith will be desperate to justify his return as head coach by leading them even further next season.
Only time will tell, but you can bet he will give his all for the South African side as they aim to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Guinness PRO14.