Twenty four hours before a major Championship game against Moseley tomorrow evening in Birmingham, Rotherham Titans have suffered a massive blow following today’s announcement that coach Lee Blackett is to leave the club at the end of the season to join Premiership club Wasps as their new backs’ coach.
Blackett, 32, is now in his second season as head coach at Rotherham and was expected to be at Clifton Lane for the 2015-16 season as well.
But once he’d been approached by Wasps early in the new year, Blackett told Rotherham’s directors in mid-February after losing at Worcester that he wanted to accept the Premiership club’s offer and asked to be released from his contract.
Blackett, who told his shocked players on Monday that he would be leaving, has enjoyed two successful years with a top four finish last season and the strong possibility of a repeat performance by the end of next month.
As the youngest coach in the Championship with a good record, it was inevitable that a Premiership club would try to recruit him.
Rotherham’s directors, Nick Cragg, Martin Jenkinson and Richard Senior, have already received applications for Blackett’s job, but it’s too soon to say when a successor will be appointed.
Blackett is understood to be advising them on whom they should appoint and he will also complete the recruitment of the squad for next season.
“It was a difficult decision to make but you don’t get many opportunities to coach in the Premiership. As a coach you want to work at the highest level,” says Blackett.
“The directors, and I would like to thank them for the opportunities they’ve given me as a player and coach at Rotherham, were disappointed when I told them and there were some difficult conversations.
“To begin with the players were down when I met them, but they are professionals and will get on with the job.
“They are desperate to finish in the top four and as professional athletes they are trained to win. The players are the main reason why I’m moving on because without these guys performing, no one would have been interested in me.
“I’m not leaving yet because there’s still a job to be done, we must get into the top four and the big focus now has to be on Moseley.”
Rotherham’s directors fought hard to keep Blackett but as Titans’ chairman Nick Cragg said:
“It’s very disappointing for the supporters that Lee is moving on after just two seasons, but we knew when he was appointed in May 2013,if he fulfilled the potential we saw, Premiership clubs would be taking a keen interest.”
His views were echoed by Martin Jenkinson who along with Cragg has put thousands of pounds of his own money into Rotherham since they saved the club from closure more than 10 years ago.
“Wasps made him an offer Lee could not turn down and we knew that we could not stand in his way.Lee,in my opinion, is a rare talent and it’s been a joy to work with him.”
Given the Titans Championship status, there should not be any problems finding a suitable replacement for next season, and it is also clear that qualified candidates will not be put off applying because Rotherham’s playing future at Clifton Lane continues to be uncertain resulting from the dispute with the owners, the Rotherham Athletic company, over the terms of the new lease.
Wasps, Blackett’s new club, now play at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry having moved controversially from the London area earlier this year and are currently sixth in the Premiership.