AS one of the brightest young coaches in the English game and newly installed as head coach at Premiership Wasps, Lee Blackett's rugby career is on a continual upward curve.
But as he settles into the top job at one of the biggest clubs in the country, the 37-year-old says he owes a huge debut of gratitude to Rotherham Rugby Club.
Blackett soaked up lots of knowledge across two playing spells with the Titans after first making his debut when the club was still in the Premiership in 2004. A club record crowd of 6,984 saw Blackett and Rotherham take on Bath at Millmoor on the day the World Cup was paraded.
He was made captain of the team in his early 20s and just seven years later, on his return to Clifton Lane after a spell at Leeds, he was appointed head coach and twice led them to the Championship play-offs against the odds.
Speaking to the Advertiser from the Lake District, where he's in lockdown, Blackett has extra time to reflect on a rugby journey that has taken him from youth rugby to his standing as one of the youngest Premiership coaches in history.
“Rotherham played a huge part in my development,” he says. “Rotherham will always be my club and the club I support.
“People may grow up with junior clubs and some may grow up to play Premiership rugby but they'll always have a junior club they feel is their club and where everything started.
“Fylde has got a bit of that in me because it is where I played junior rugby but I would say the big one is Rotherham in terms of my development in playing and coaching.
“That's where I got a big fondness for the two owners, Martin Jenkinson and Nick Cragg.
“I made my Premiership debut for Rotherham. I came through the Academy as an 18-year-old and captained the club at 23.
“Rotherham, especially Martin, gave me my first opportunity on the coaching front.”
Lee Blackett with Rotherham directors Nick Cragg and Martin Jenkinson on taking over as head coach at 30.
Blackett, who played wing and centre, also had some good tutors during his time at Clifton Lane.
It is a willingness to listen to those around him and note the good and the bad practices at rugby clubs that has helped his rapid progress.
“I learnt off loads of different people, from an old school teacher to coaches I had at Leeds and at Rotherham,” he says.
“You learn good and you learn bad from people and from the likes of Andre Bester and Alex Codling I learned loads.
“Having said that, I think you take a couple of things from every coach you work with and played under.”
Lee on duty for Wasps.
No-one can argue that Blackett hasn't earned his crack at the top job at Wasps.
He has spent five years there as backs coach since the club noticed his talents and took him from Rotherham in 2015.
When director of rugby Dail Young left in February, Blackett was put in temporary charge and led Wasps to three wins from four before the season was suspended due to the pandemic.
It's like history repeating itself, a true rugby man getting in tune with a club, its people and how it ticks before graduating to the head coach role.
“It's true, I know how Wasps works and that is probably the same as what happened at Rotherham in the years I played under Codders and Bester before I took over,” acknowledges Lee.
“It was probably six years in between me leaving the first time and going back.
“I knew the club beforehand but the six years does change a lot and having that extra year before I took over was vital to learn the characters within the club and how it worked again. At Wasps, I've had five. I know the staff and everyone involved so it is similar to what happened at Rotherham.
“It is a great opportunity for me and I'm really proud but looking back, I can't compliment Rotherham enough.
“It has done so much for me.”