Franco Smith an 'unbelievable' rugby brain
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Ireland rugby fans will get an indication of what the future could hold for their national team, when they face Italy in Dublin on Saturday.
The Azzurri’s attack will be masterminded by Mike Catt, the former England World Cup winner – who will quit as Italy attack coach after the World Cup in Japan to take up the same role under new Ireland head coach Andy Farrell.
It puts the former Bath utility back in a difficult position on Saturday.
However, Conor O’Shea, the Irishman in charge of Italy, is adamant Catt’s only focus will be on the Azzuri and that his imminent departure will not be a factor.
O’Shea’s own position as head coach was the subject of intense speculation with news that Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith was joining the Italian management, but his arrival will be as a replacement for Catt not the head coach for the 2020 Six Nations.
O’Shea describes Smith as an “unbelievable” rugby brain who previously coached and played for Treviso and said: “There has been no effect on us at all and this is a professional sport and we have known about Mike’s move for a long time.
“There was a lot of speculation with stories about various people coming in and out, but we knew what was actually going on.
“We couldn’t say anything at that point because things needed to be signed.
“As a player, you have your time in the jersey and that is the same for a coach and Mike has been absolutely brilliant and he will have a great time when he joins Ireland with a different climate and weather!
“Right at the start, we said this is what is happening and let’s now forget about it. We will say our goodbyes to Mike after the World Cup and nothing has changed for us at all.”
O’Shea is confident there will be a seamless switch from Catt to Smith and added: “Even though it was in the papers who was supposedly going where we could not say anything.
“We had to keep our counsel until the ink was dry.
“For me, Franco is an unbelievable rugby brain and he speaks the Italian language fluently, has lived, played and coached in Italy. Like any country, there are frustrations over the speed of change but he will understand that immediately.
“He knows the players and it will be a pretty seamless move heading into the Six Nations but we will talk about that after the World Cup.”
Catt’s contract with Ireland will see him involved with the team up to and including the Rugby World Cup in 2023.
By Chris Jones, RugbyPass
George Ford discusses England’s World Cup preparations leading into a RWC warm-up game against Wales at Twickenham.