Smith: We won a lot of hearts
REACTION: Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith believes his side has won a lot of fans since he took over as head coach in 2015.
The Cheetahs played their final Super Rugby match this weekend in Port Elizabeth against the Southern Kings, which the Cheetahs edged 21-20
Both sides have been axed from future Super Rugby tournaments and Smith said it was quite an emotional experience for him.
"I started off two and a half years ago with a plan and it seems like yesterday," Smith said after the match at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
"It took a bunch of young players from Varsity Cup and I added some quality talent to it and we tried to build a brand that excited everybody in South Africa. I am proud to say that looking back we weren't always winners, but we won a lot of hearts. I think that was one of the goals we achieved.
"I am a little bit sad to say goodbye to the players as a hands-on coach, but I am also very grateful to have the opportunity to go and coach with the Boks now and be involved in developing more players in South Africa
"My new role at the Cheetahs as Director of Rugby will be to develop coaches and players and to keep on supporting the system. I still believe in every player that's there and I said in a tweet this week that I still believe in the Cheetahs and that is true.
"I believe that we are an academy of developing players over the years - for 125 years we developed players for other unions to use, so we are going to keep on doing that and we are going to keep on providing them with the best opportunity to develop all skill sets and to play a brand that excites. [We want] to develop players for the whole of South Africa and not just for the Cheetahs.
"All the negativities surrounding Super Rugby in the last 10 years is now off our back, so we can really go into this Currie Cup and whatever lies behind that with a different mindset."
Smith praised his team for their fighting spirit to beat Kings from 6-20 down with about 13 minutes left on the clock.
"I think we showed some great character and I am really glad about that, but the Kings were exceptional on defence and on attack and they managed to nullify our set piece, which is our strength usually.
We were fortunate, but I must say it has been a long season of hard-fought battles for us as well. It is an extreme compliment in the last 18-20 minutes after a very long competitive season to still have that fighting spirit to pull it through, so I am obviously going to tip my hat to that.
"I think technically we weren't good enough, but if you leave your heart on your sleeve out there and you show that you care, there is no better compliment for a coach," Smith added.