Lee Blackett says he is devastated to be leaving Rotherham Titans after Wasps made him an offer he simply could not refuse.
The 32-year-old Titans head coach is to take the role of backs coach with the former European champions at the end of the season.
The announcement was made yesterday, just days after Blackett sat down with Rotherham’s players to tell them himself.
He had another year left to run on his contract at Clifton Lane, but has chosen to further his coaching career at one of the biggest club sides in world rugby.
The size of the opportunity made it difficult for Rotherham’s senior management to stand in Blackett’s way, though they did try to encourage a man they gave a start to as a player 15 years ago, and as a coach more than a decade later, to continue orchestrating the South Yorkshire club’s revival.
Blackett has been a revelation since succeeding Alex Codling on a permanent basis two summers ago.
He took the perennial mid-table side to the Championship’s promotion play-offs last season, and with a winning run and his undivided attention – which he has promised the club from now until the end of the season – he could repeat the trick this term.
“It was a massive decision and not something I’ve taken lightly,” said Blackett, who became the youngest head coach in the second tier when named Titans boss aged 30.
“Rotherham is where I started my playing career and where I started my coaching career.
“This club means everything to me and it was a difficult decision to make.
“Wasps is a club with a great history, and one that is really going forward.
“It’s a job I could not turn down and I am devastated to leave Rotherham because of everything they have done for me.”
Ideally, Blackett would like to sign off by steering Rotherham into the top four for a second successive season.
This means winning tonight at lowly Moseley, to keep the heat on current incumbents Nottingham.
In a message to Titans fans, Blackett said there is absolutely no question that he will continue to give his all in his remaining time with the club.
“When you’re doing the job of a head coach you have no time to think about anything else,” he said. “People have been asking if I’m excited – but I don’t have time to be excited.
“On a personal level, I would love to leave this club having taken them into the play-offs again, for all they have done for me.
“Martin Jenkinson (director of rugby) and Nick Cragg (chairman) are good, honest men.
“They are delighted for me and they did not want to hold me back.”
Blackett even scoffed at the suggestion that he had taken the club as far as he could, though Cragg conceded that a realisation of their limitations came into the equation at their end.
“We are a club that has limited resources, and playing Moseley on a wet Friday night is not as enticing as playing at the Ricoh Arena on a sunny day,” said Cragg.
“We tried to encourage Lee not to go and it was a tough decision for him. His heart is here at Rotherham.
“But, on balance, he believes this is a great opportunity and one he must take, and we are resigned to that.
“We have been trying to put it off without success. We were hoping he would change his mind.
“We are not too thrilled about it. We are thrilled for Lee, but we are where we are and we have to face reality.”
Rotherham will receive no compensation from Wasps, despite Blackett having more than 12 months to run on his contract.
A gentlemen’s agreement in the spirit of the game has prevailed, one which extends to Rotherham’s confidence that Blackett’s focus will not shift in the coming weeks.
“There’s no doubt in our minds he will give us everything he has from now until the end of the season.
“Lee is already assisting us in appointing his successor.
“We understand the decision he has made, but we are disappointed.
“He will certainly have a decision to make when we win promotion.”
Blackett, who will work under director of rugby Dai Young at Wasps, added: “I’d like to thank the Rotherham directors who gave me the opportunity as head coach and I hope I have repaid them.
“As a coach, you are very reliant on players and a massive thank you must also go to them for how hard they have worked and played. I view this move as a massive opportunity to learn from coaches who have enjoyed success at the highest level.”