As was the case when Lee Blackett was first promoted to head coach at Wasps last February, his first-year anniversary in the role will pass under the radar next week with the rugby focus in England currently dominated by the Guinness Six Nations. It was February 11 last year when the word from Coventry was that long-serving director of rugby Dai Young was stepping back from his position, a decision that became permanent when he exited the club not long after.
Into the breach stepped Blackett, an assistant coach with a remit for the backs and attack. He took charge for his first game four days later at Leicester – February 15 – and was soon as confirmed as Young’s long-term successor.
There were fears at the time that Blackett’s inexperience might count against him but those anxieties have long since disappeared. Ahead of Wasps’ Ricoh Arena tussle on Saturday against Northampton, Blackett has had an enviable first-year Premiership record in charge – Played 22: Won 16, Lost 6 in the league.
It’s a tenure that included an appearance in the 2019/20 final versus Exeter at Twickenham last October and while last Sunday’s thumping by Harlequins was a reminder of how things can suddenly go very wrong, Blackett’s apprenticeship as a Premiership head coach is well and truly over and he can be ranked as quite a soaraway success.
It’s some achievement compared to how other rookie Premiership bosses are faring. While Stuart Hooper is running at Played 30: Won 16, Drew 1, Lost 13 at Bath, George Skivington was Played 16: W5, Lost 11 heading into this weekend’s round eight.
'My @LboroRugby coach said he'd just had Wasps on the phone, they're keen to sign me, am I interested? At the end of the call, I just put the phone down and screamed'@JLyall93 ??? talks to @Thibaud_Flament who went the long way round landing his dream https://t.co/OtFRau81Rs
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 24, 2021
Meanwhile, Paul Gustard bowed out at Harlequins last month with a Played 50: Won 22, Drew 2, Lost 26 record, while Geordan Murphy handed over the reins at Leicester to Steve Borthwick with a league ledger showing Played 43: Won 13, Drew 1, Lost 29.
Pivotal to Blackett ensuring his face fitted as the head coach at Wasps was using the lockdown to assiduously do some research while he also learned about the invaluable ability to delegate and not overburden yourself in the role.
“Probably the biggest thing is knowing when to switch off, knowing what things to get involved in,” replied Blackett after RugbyPass asked him in midweek what was the secret to successfully settling into the head coach position at Wasps.
“For me, there’s a lot of stuff that goes off the field, things that (CEO) Stephen Vaughan will pick up or Kev Harmon (head of recruitment), you don’t need to get involved in absolutely everything. Just trust people around you to do their job and don’t be a control freak over absolutely everything because you otherwise waste your energy on a lot of things.
“For me, the most important thing is in this job is the players on the field and getting everyone in the right place on the field. The most important part of that is training so don’t get too distracted with things that go on outside. They would be my learnings.
“Things have gone my way in the year. I know it sounds bad but the Covid break, we didn’t want to stop at the time but it really was time to reflect, it gave me time to spend a lot of time looking at stuff.
“We have changed our full training week since then, the way we run our weeks, the set-up of the days. There was a lot of hard work, a lot of speaking to other clubs, how they train, so we basically get three days training done on the bounce early in the week and a lot of recovery at the back end to be fresh for games, but a lot of detail is involved in that in terms of the intensities of each day, how you train.
“I spent a lot of time looking up things like that and that probably helped me. I spent three months researching it. Then we had guys coming in from S&C and we managed all of those Zoom calls with those guys and built up a relationship before we even started. On reflection, I would say just trust people around you to do their job and make sure you don’t have to get involved in absolutely everything.”
RugbyPass covered numerous heart-wrenching retirement stories over the past year, checking in last July on how ex-Wasps back row Alex Rieder was faring seven months after he limped away from the sport – w/@heagneyl ???https://t.co/orpMtJLZH5
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 29, 2020
Being the club figurehead has also meant adjusting to the heavy demands of the media. That pressure can affect coaches while they are trying to earn their stripes but Blackett knows talking about his club comes with the territory of being the boss.
“We have discussed it [the media] a fair bit,” he said. “With the press, I am always trying to improve because previously I had done a fair bit in the Championship having been a head coach there (at Rotherham) but nothing to the level of the Premiership.
“It’s something I’m constantly working on. I just try to be honest and straight and be as relaxed as possible going into them. Am I comfortable with it? It’s probably something I don’t overly think about but it is part of the job and I understand you have to do it.
“Look, I have probably been lucky. We have come off the back of most wins. I’m sure there will be difficult times ahead where you will be coming off back-to-back defeats or three defeats on the bounce. It has probably been a little bit easier and it hopefully carries on being easy because it means we are winning. Ask me again after we lose another couple at some point.”
“I do run my mouth a bit"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 8, 2021
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