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Why Blackett DOESN'T feel threatened by Wasps' signing of Mitchell

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Lee Blackett has explained he had no hesitation in recruiting John Mitchell as an assistant at Wasps – even though the New Zealander is a far more experienced coach and could potentially be Blackett’s ready-made successor at the head of the Gallagher Premiership club if things go wrong results-wise in the coming seasons. 

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Blackett, who doesn’t turn 39 until next November, took over the reins from Dai Young in early 2020 and the rookie Premiership boss quickly led Wasps to the following October’s Premiership final when the season was restarted after the first lockdown. 

However, the ex-Rotherham and Leeds player went on to have a much more difficult first full season in charge, Wasps suffering a mid-campaign slump before eventually finishing in eighth position 21 points shy of the cut-off for the playoffs. 

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Yet, rather than feel threatened about his own inexperience in his role as a Premiership club boss, Blackett instead moved quickly during the summer to bring in Mitchell as the new Wasps attack coach even though the Kiwi is 18 years older than him and has a considerable more credible CV compared to him – including a stint as All Blacks boss and multiple Super Rugby and Premiership head coaching roles before becoming defence coach at Eddie Jones’ England.

“I want us to get better, simple as that,” enthused Blackett when asked by RugbyPass at a virtual media session on Tuesday why he had brought in Mitchell, a seasoned assistant who potentially could do the job of Wasps head coach. “You want differences in your coaching team and if you look at ours, people are different but one thing we lacked was experience. 

“No matter who we went and got in that attack role it had to be someone experienced, it had to be someone who had been around, been in plenty and different environments because it is crucial to us. It feels awkward calling him John… if I look at Mitch, as soon as I found out (he was available) I rang him that night, spoke to him on the phone, went down and met him the next day just because it was a great fit.

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“You look at Matt Everard taking over the D for the first time, I thought he [Mitchell] could come in and help him. I’m looking at him coming into the attack with his experience – he has led forwards so he could help any of the forwards if he was seeing anything and could help there, and I felt that he had led attacks before (Wasps have also appointed young Ed Robinson as skills coach).

“Also for me, I felt it would be great to have someone who has been there and done it and seen it in plenty of environments and he can give his knowledge, (we can) almost steal his knowledge. And then my final reason definitely was I knew it would give a boost to the playing side and that is what we are here for. I want the players to have the absolute backing and confidence in what they are doing and I thought that was another boost to that.”

It was July 23 when the RFU first revealed that Mitchell would be joining Wasps after this November’s autumn series, but that joining date was soon changed to August when England confirmed a deal two weeks later for Wasps attack coach Martin Gleeson to link up with Eddie Jones’ Test staff with immediate effect. Just three-and-a-half weeks later, Blackett confirmed that Mitchell has already provided invaluable assistance with his initial input.

“Loads, loads,” he replied when asked what he was learning from his new sidekick. “Every single day there are tiny nuggets that he is giving me, things he is seeing. I’m constantly questioning him on loads of little things. He’s not the only one – I do that with all the coaches. That is how we are. 

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“We want each other as a coaching team to be challenging each other the whole time, questioning everything we are doing, why we are doing it, and the reason we do that is there is no point in doing something if it is not going to make the team better because that is what it is about in the end, it’s about making the players better so just constantly asking and obviously with his experience it’s invaluable to us.”

Blackett later revealed at his media briefing that it was Wasps legend Lawrence Dallaglio who first alerted him to Mitchell’s availability even though the England assistant already had a contract taking him through to the 2023 World Cup in France. “The first person that actually brought it to my attention was Lawrence Dallaglio,” he admitted. 

“He had a conversation with Mitch and Mitch said he was available and it went from there. I rang Mitch straight away, spoke to him, went down and had a conversation, then the club spoke with his agent and tried to sort a deal out as soon as we probably could and it took a couple of weeks to go through. 

“We were in discussions with Martin going one way and we knew more or less where that was going, so it [the Mitchell deal] was something we tried to push on quickly because someone of Mitch’s quality is not on the market for that long. Once we knew 100 per cent that he was the guy we wanted we moved pretty quickly.”

 

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Why Blackett DOESN'T feel threatened by Wasps' signing of Mitchell

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