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Franco Smith is to become Italy coach after the Rugby World Cup, the Free State Cheetahs have announced.
Former Ireland international Conor O'Shea will lead the Azzurri into the World Cup in Japan later this year but it is unclear whether he will retain a position with the Italian federation as Smith is due to take over on January 1, 2020.
O’Shea has been in charge of Italy since 2016 and in his first season at the helm he enjoyed a win over South Africa, but the Azzurri have failed to win a Six Nations game in the last three campaigns.
Smith spent six years as a coach with PRO14 side Treviso before returning to the Cheetahs in 2019 and he will remain with the South African side for their upcoming Currie Cup campaign. However, a new coach will be in place for the start of the 2019-20 Guinness PRO14 season.
"Franco was offered the opportunity to coach the Italian national side from 1 January 2020," a statement from the Cheetahs read.
"The Board of Directors see this as a great opportunity for Franco and is proud of the fact that so many top coaches have been developed by the Free State Cheetahs.
"Free State Rugby is seen as a breeding ground of opportunity with coaches like Rassie Erasmus, Niel Powell, Jacques Nienaber, Pote Human, Brendon Venter, Rory Duncan, Daan Human, who all started off in the Free State – and in the past, Nelie Smith, Gysie Pienaar and others.
"The 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.
"In order to ensure a smooth transition, Franco will remain in the position as Head Coach for Currie Cup, where after the new coach will take over the reins for Guinness PRO14 later in September."
The Italian Rugby Federation have yet to comment on the situation.
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