I know Bulls’ heartbeat at hostile Loftus – Smith

Bulls captain Ruan Nortjé and Glasgow Warriors counterpart square off with the United Rugby Championship trophy at Loftus Versfeld. Photo: INPHO

Bulls captain Ruan Nortjé and Glasgow Warriors counterpart square off with the United Rugby Championship trophy at Loftus Versfeld. Photo: INPHO

Published Jun 22, 2024


HAVING come through the Free State schools system and flourished at the Cheetahs and Bulls, Franco Smith would never have thought that one day he would be coaching an overseas team against the Pretoria side.

But the 51-year-old former Springbok flyhalf and inside centre – who attended Sand du Plessis High School in Bloemfontein, which is also the old school of another Bulls legend, Morné Steyn, and current Bulls president Willem Strauss – will be hoping that his Glasgow Warriors side can do the unthinkable and beat Jake White’s team in today’s United Rugby Championship final at Loftus Versfeld (6pm start).

It doesn’t mean, though, that he has been holding extra Afrikaans lessons for the Scottish outfit this week.

“No need for that! The game has moved on beyond lineout calls. It’s the back-end of the season, and it will take more than just understanding the lineout calls,” Smith said yesterday, after naming an unchanged team that beat Munster 17-10 in Limerick last week.

“It’s fantastic. The Bulls were magnificent during my career, and I have some fond memories. Some of my best friends came from that ’98 group, and it’s excellent to come out here.

“I’ve been here over the years with the Cheetahs and Springboks, and seeing Loftus full is always special, and a special motivation.

“To share this experience with people I work with currently is fantastic, and it will mean a lot to their experience levels.

“I still believe that Loftus is the best place to play rugby. The ball travels a little bit further, the wind never blows, the temperature is always the same – and the crowd is always enthusiastic!

“So, definitely a proud moment, but also excellent to share it with the boys, who will take it on board for the rest of their careers.”

Smith – who earned nine Springbok Test caps from 1996 to 1999 – nearly engineered a stunning comeback from Glasgow in a recent URC clash at Loftus, as the Bulls held on for a 40-34 victory on May 11.

But despite their heroic display in getting past defending champions Munster in last week’s semi-final, he knows it will require an even bigger effort to knock over the home side in front of a baying 51 000 capacity crowd.

“I don’t think what we did last week will be enough to beat the Bulls here. We’ll have to make a step up,” Smith said.

“It’s going to be a big challenge. I’m South African and I know their heartbeat, I know how the blood goes to their veins... I know how they desperately want to succeed.

“We definitely see it as a different challenge, and I agree that we must step up if we want to be competitive until the end of the game.

“We’ve learnt a lot from last week’s game. There were 20 000 Irish supporters at Thomond Park, and it could have been intimidating.

“But we’ve taken a lot from that in our preparation for this week. We know that we’ll face a pretty hostile crowd over here as well, and it’s just double the number from last week.

“It’s about focusing on the task at hand and not being engulfed by the occasion.”