Lee Blackett’s years of prep’ in Yorkshire pay dividends at Wasps

AT just 37, Lee Blackett is one of the youngest head coaches in Premiership history but it should come as no surprise.

Friday, 17th April 2020, 6:00 am
Lee Blackett. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

The former Leeds Carnegie centre, who was named Wasps new chief last week, took charge of Championship club Rotherham Titans when still only 30 and produced some stunning results.

Moreover, he captained the South Yorkshire outfit at the tender age of 23 so it is perhaps not too much of a shock that he has made his way up the leadership ranks so quickly.

Blackett is regarded as one of the brightest young coaches in rugby union and, having been in interim charge of Wasps since director of rugby Dai Young’s departure in mid-February, helped them to three wins in four games before the season was suspended due to coronavirus.

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“Even when I was 18 at school I’d be coaching the Under-12s B team so I’d be in charge of that,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“It wasn’t something that just jumped on me. My degree is sports development and coaching so you could see even from that age where I wanted to go.

“Then, when I was about 25 and playing at Leeds, I was travelling back down to Sheffield Hallam University and was head coach down there. I did that for about five years while playing for Carnegie so I probably had that experience of coaching before I got pushed into it.”

The ‘push’ came after his return to Rotherham where he was initially assistant to Andre Bester and then Alex Codling before unexpectedly ending up as head coach – and twice helping them to the Championship play-offs on a shoestring budget.

Wasps took note of his talents and Blackett – who played with Rotherham and Leeds in the Premiership – joined them as attack and backs coach in 2015.

He has always been a keen leader but admitted: “I’d never been a captain growing up so it did come to me fairly young at Rotherham.

“I maybe did an odd school game or university match but that was it. And I’d probably captained more in cricket than in rugby! Even when I was at Leeds playing I was still playing cricket, trying to stay fit in the summer but that stopped a fair while ago.

“In Sheffield I played for De La Salle and then I played in a team with (Carnegie team-mate) Joe Bedford for two seasons, I think in the Bradford League.

“I enjoyed it. Although I probably didn’t tell the club I was playing! For me it was just a get away. I enjoy my golf and actually thought the more I played golf the better my rugby was.

“It was a good distraction actually. Whenever I was doing things like that – golf, cricket – it did help as I was someone who would always think about rugby.

“If I put myself into something else like that – another hobby – I seemed to play my best and be mentally at my best.”

Blackett is currently staying on the family farm in the Lake District having escaped there before the lockdown. Like everyone, he remains unsure whether the Premiership season will finish at all or just start again for 2020-21.

But on the prospect of leading former European champions Wasps, Blackett admitted: “It is an exciting challenge. The club means a lot to me now; when you’ve been somewhere for five years you learn how you feel about the club, the people within it, the owners and everything.

“For me, it’s a brilliant opportunity, something I’m massively proud of.

“But there comes pressure with that. We have got to get results and perform and we know that. It’s got a proud history and hopefully we can make our own history in this time.” He is saddened to see his former clubs suffer so badly this term; when the season was ended early by Covid-19, Rotherham were relegated from National One and winless Carnegie were demoted from the Championship.

Blackett said: “It’s not been a great season. Carnegie looked like they were gone pretty early on with everything that happened financially the previous year.

“It was pretty evident that was going to happen whereas Rotherham you felt they’d made a change behind the scenes that left them coming good. I know a lot of them there. They have a lot of good young coaches and I feel for them going down and the league getting cut short as I think they were on the right course to stay up. That was a tough one for them to take.

“But I obviously know the owners both really well and Martin Jenkinson ridiculously well. I’ve spoken to him and he is absolutely determined to get the club back up next year. If there’s any way I can help I will. I stay in touch regularly. Rotherham, probably for me, will always be the club I follow and the team I’m closest to.

“I joined the Academy and came through there so it’s always been a special club to me.”