Franco Smith wants to create 'new DNA' for Italian rugby

South African Franco Smith will coach Italy until 2024. (AFP Photo/Vincenzo PINTO )

Milan (AFP) - South African Franco Smith said Wednesday he wanted to create a "new DNA" for Italian rugby as he was officially unveiled as the national side's head coach.

Smith took over on an interim basis last November after predecessor Conor O'Shea resigned, with his contract set to run beyond the next World Cup in France until 2024.

The 47-year-old has endured a rocky start with three defeats in as many games in the Six Nations -- two with a zero scoreline -- before the tournament was suspended because of the coronavirus crisis.

But with a six-strong team of coaching assistants including fellow South Africans Marius Goosen and Quintin Kruger, the former Free State Cheetahs boss remains confident he can turn the Azzurri into a competitive outfit.

Goosen will oversee defence with Giampiero De Carli in charge of forwards, Corrado Pilat (skills), Alessandro Troncon (three-quarters) and athletic trainers Quintin Kruger and Giovanni Sanguin.

Pilat, Troncon and Kruger's positions are all new ones.

"We'll try to build a new DNA," Smith told a video-conference from his home in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

"Starting from three cornerstones -- greater unpredictability, greater physicality and the ability to always give everything thanks to a high work ethic.

"These are goals that must concern everyone from the under-eights right through to the national team.

"The (Six Nations) tournament that ended prematurely marked the beginning of a growth path which we will work on, together with the staff, franchises, the players."

In Smith, the Italian rugby federation have chosen a coach who knows the country well having won two titles as a player and two as a coach over a decade with club side Treviso.

Both Smith and Kruger, his assistant at the Free States Cheetahs who won the Currie Cup in 2016 and 2019, will arrive in Italy next week and face two-weeks quarantine.

"Being away and sitting on a chair frustrates me, because it takes time to make a boat change direction, as seen at the start of the tournament," said Smith.

"But I am convinced that we have the means to do it. We will be competitive.

"I have known the reality of Italian rugby for 20 years, it is a source of great pride for me to face this challenge."

The former Springbok fly-half lined out for Bologna and Treviso during his playing days two decades ago.

He coached Treviso for six years between 2007 and 2013 before taking over as coach of South African side the Cheetahs in 2015.

He was also assistant coach of South Africa under Allister Coetzee in 2017.

- 'War mentality' -

Smith said he hoped to expand the Italy squad to between 50 and 55 players, bringing in some of the under 20 national team, who had been hoping to impress at the U20 World Cup in Italy which was postponed.

Ex-Italy scrum-half Troncon, returns having spent four years as Azzurri assistant coach under Nick Mallett from 2008-2012.

The 46-year-old was assistant coach at Zebre either side of a stint with the under-20 side.

"For now, I have only had telephone contacts with Franco," said the 101-times capped Troncon.

"As soon as we are allowed, we will meet."

Skills coach Pilat, 45, wants to change the mentality of a side who have not won in the Six Nations since 2015.

"Every game must be a war, they must have this mentality," said the former Italian international.

The Italian rugby season has been cancelled and the return to competition remains uncertain because of the virus pandemic.

But Italian federation president Alfredo Gavazzi hopes to play the two remaining Six Nations fixtures against Ireland and England in October, followed by scheduled autumn test matches against South Africa, Uruguay and Australia.

"Among the alternatives there is a Six Nations to start in November, immediately after the end of the 2020 edition," he said.

"Every Thursday I talk to colleagues from the tournament federations.

"It's a new situation that's evolving daily."