Rookie head coach Lee Blackett doesn’t do hype when it comes to Wasps’ recent revival. Quizzed on the eye-catching transformation – four straight Gallagher Premiership wins is a vein of league form not experienced since six games were won on the bounce in winter 2017 – and he kicks to touch, suggesting there has been no great alchemy on his part.
Being modest about the rapid improvement is his approach to life just now rather than any revelling in the impressive moments which few – if any – genuinely saw materialising so quickly. Wasps appeared a beaten docket when long-serving Dai Young stepped down last February with just three wins in nine 2019/20 league outings.
And while the Blackett era soon got off to a bum note, Wasps losing at Leicester that same weekend after Young headed off, their results since have been exemplary – four matches, four bonus-point wins, 169 points and a bountiful 22 tries. Only Bristol can boast better. And yet, the new Wasps man would have you believe he is merely a lucky general enjoying the rub of the green rather than someone who is doing something very right.
Wasps’ spluttering attack hasn’t looked back since their eight-try, 60-point beasting of Saracens, a haul followed five-try harvests versus both London Irish and Gloucester before last Sunday’s most impressive belt notch yet, their four-try bonus-point win at fancied Northampton which lifted them into fourth place on the ladder.
Saints boss Chris Boyd claimed in the aftermath he didn’t see the reversal coming. Blackett did, though, the newly promoted assistant thriving due to the confidence coursing through Wasps just now.
"He gives us that big physical edge and we don’t want to tweak him too much"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 19, 2020
With an inexperienced Worcester next at the Ricoh this Friday, there is every chance Blackett’s freshly-energised charges will play host to Sale next Tuesday seeking a sixth win on the bounce – quite the transformation from the dreary days of February when it seemed their campaign was done and dusted.
Just don’t praise the new man for his role in the rejuvenation. “The turnaround has been positive but there were signs coming anyway,” said Blackett on a Microsoft Teams call ahead of welcoming the Warriors. “I knew there were some good performances just around the corner.
“We just lacked a little bit of confidence and probably have done for over the last year, and you can see we weren’t a million miles away. At the weekend we were six points up, four minutes to go, they make a break on the right-hand side and that is the difference between winning and losing games.
“When teams are really confident you find a way to win it. When you’re not confident we somehow found a way of losing. We lost to Northampton just after Christmas right at the end with Northampton down to 13 men. We probably needed just a bit of confidence.
“We went out against Saracens and we got that. Since then we have never really looked back. We’re pleased with how it has gone. The players have to take credit in terms of the leadership, especially the main leaders in the group. They have done a fantastic job.
“We have not tweaked too much. There is little tweaks on the field but nothing that you would say you go from losing one week to putting in that type of performance we did against Saracens. The biggest thing is probably the confidence and leadership. Definitely, I would say it is both of those.
“I like to give people the feeling of confidence. I want them to be able to go out there, express themselves, be who they are and try and create an environment that is positive and drives confidence within the group. Whether that is staff or players it doesn’t matter. That is the big thing, I’d like to think that is what the perception is but whether it is or not we’ll see.
“I’d like to think we are trying to create. I don’t want to make this about me. It’s about everyone within the group creating. We are all together trying to create a culture that drives confidence and allows people to go and express themselves. One individual can’t do that. That’s a collective, that’s players, that’s staff, that’s all of us together.”
He's no household name but the story of @AlexRieder1 is a compelling insight into hardships inflicted by the sport: shattered limbs, dependence on painkillers and an onerous mental health battle that preyed on vulnerabilities
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 19, 2020
If last Sunday is anything to go by, Wasps fans eager to rekindle the halcyon days of their history will be glad that Blackett, instead of winging it week to week as was the case in spring when he was initially nudged into succeeding Young, now has the benefit of the five-month lockdown to inflame optimism that he is the real deal as a Premiership head coach.
“It’s a little bit like having a pre-season,” said Blackett of the lockdown layoff. “You get some of your ideas across and you can slightly tweak things, plus another big thing that most people realise is we have changed more or less the whole S&C department, so fresh ideas, new ideas coming in, so everything felt a bit fresher to me. New coaches as well…
“It feels like a completely different environment at this moment in time and that probably helped. It gave time to bed ideas in and just tweak little things here and there. Obviously, the big advantage is knowing the boys from beforehand as well (as an assistant) so you’d built up those relationships.
“But it probably did feel a bit different at the weekend. Before everything felt you were going game to game, this (lockdown) gave five months to get some planning in place for that first game vs Northampton.”
"Many Northampton fans didn’t want me & were very outspoken. They assumed I was on mega wedge, not the academy contract that I essentially signed"@jameshaskell on hateful fan sites, I'm a Celebrity edits screwing him; MMA, BLM & more w/@heagneyl ???https://t.co/9SsEeGT790
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 16, 2020
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