Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Italy deny Cheetahs claim that Smith will succeed Conor O'Shea after World Cup

Irishman O’Shea has been in charge since 2016.

Updated 5.32pm

THE CHEETAHS SAY that Franco Smith will take over as Italy coach after this year’s World Cup, but the Italian Rugby Federation [FIR] has denied the South African club’s claims.

A statement from the Cheetahs states that their current head coach, Smith, has signed a deal to succeed Azzurri boss Conor O’Shea on 1 January 2020.

However, a subsequent statement from the FIR says that “no recruitment process for the National Team Head Coach position is in place.”

The statement says that the FIR is in “talks and negotiations with international level coaches, with the aim of consolidating and further enhancing the technical offer of the national men’s senior team.”

Former Ireland fullback O’Shea has been in charge of Italy since 2016 and will lead them into the World Cup in Japan in September.

But the Cheetahs claim that Smith will take over early next year. The South African Pro14 franchise states that its board of directors “is proud of and wishes Franco the best of luck with the opportunity to coach on an international level until the next World Cup in 2023.”

It remains unclear whether O’Shea will continue to work with the Italian federation beyond 2020, with his current role being akin to a director of rugby position, overseeing aspects of Italian rugby beyond just the senior men’s national team.

While Italy have struggled on the pitch in the Six Nations, losing 22 championship games in a row, there have been signs of progress with Benetton reaching the Pro14 play-offs this season and the Italy U20s delivering some promising performances.

O’Shea won 35 caps for Ireland as a player and also lined out for London Irish and Leinster.

He became London Irish’s director of rugby in the early 2000s before moving onto a role with the RFU in 2005, where he oversaw the English union’s regional academies.

In 2008, he joined the English Institute of Sport as national director but was appointed director of rugby at Harlequins the following year, going on to guide the club to the Challenge Cup in 2011 and a Premiership title in 2012.

Former Springbok Smith has previous experience of Italian rugby, having coached Treviso from 2007 until 2013.

The 46-year-old has been head coach of the Cheetahs since 2015. The South African side has confirmed that Smith will oversee their upcoming Currie Cup campaign, but said that a new head coach will be in position ahead of the 2019/20 Pro14 season.

Meanwhile, Italy have named a 39-man training squad to convene next month ahead of the World Cup, with Ireland native Ian McKinley included.

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