Glasgow Warriors: Franco Smith may be able to steady ship but daunting task awaits him
In the short term, Franco Smith should bring some much-needed stability to Glasgow. The new head coach, who will take up his position at Scotstoun in time for the Warriors’ pre-season friendlies at the start of next month, is experienced enough to restore solidity and a sense of direction to a side that lost its way badly last season.
It would be unrealistic to expect a revolutionary change for the better in a matter of months, but the 50-year-old South African definitely has the nous required to make Glasgow a far harder team to beat than they were at times under his predecessor, Danny Wilson. There should certainly be no more calamitous collapses such as the 76-14 defeat by Leinster in the URC quarter-final back in June – a result which cost Wilson his job and provided a painful illustration of the poor morale within the playing squad.
In the longer term – which means two years, the duration of the contract Smith has signed – it remains to be seen if the former head coach of the Italian national team will be able to effect a sustained improvement in the team. The back-to-basics approach he took when appointed to that position with the Azzurri will stand him in good stead at Scotstoun up to a point, but the next step will be to try to rediscover the team’s cutting edge, an altogether more onerous task.
Smith certainly made the right noises in the press release announcing his appointment, saying that his objectives included “to play a winning brand of rugby [and] to have a style that is good to watch and that the fans can associate with”. That is what the vast majority of Warriors supporters will want to hear after a season in which they were overshadowed by an Edinburgh team that, under new head coach Mike Blair and finally with a ground to call its own in the DAM Health Stadium, adopted a richly entertaining style of play.
But Wilson made very similar noises when he took up the job in 2020, insisting that he wanted Glasgow to maintain their swashbuckling style while giving away far fewer silly scores at the back. That analysis of what the team needed to do was spot-on, but for several reasons was never properly put into practice. Yes, some of the madness went, but so did a lot of the fun.
In any case, it would be wrong to characterise Smith’s task as merely righting the wrongs that became apparent under his immediate predecessor. Wilson may have failed to move the team in a positive direction, but some of the problems which became glaringly obvious over the past two years predated his reign by a considerable period.
The Warriors reached the PRO14 final in 2019, losing 18-15 to Leinster, but the cracks were already beginning to show by then. After improving steadily from a very low point in the early years of the century, initially under Sean Lineen and then with Gregor Townsend at the helm when they won the PRO12 in 2015, they arguably set off on a decline shortly after that high point.
The simplest way of arresting such a decline in any team is by buying in a bunch of star players and transforming the squad. That option is not available to Smith, who by and large will have to work with the players he has, as well as inheriting the existing group of assistant coaches. A daunting task awaits him.