A marital battle for nighttime thermostat control swiftly turned to a moment that would deny Wasps coach Richard Blaze his place at last month’s Premiership final.
“I felt a bit hot in the evening then I realised my wife had turned the heating on to 30 degrees in the bedroom, ” said the former Leicester Tigers lock. “I just thought it was that if I am being totally honest. I woke up the next day to a phone call.”
The voice on the other end of the line wasn’t delivering any morning cheer. Having helped fine tune the forward pack at Wasps to achieve nine wins in 10 games to progress to the Twickenham Stadium showpiece event, Blaze would take no part in the final against Exeter Chiefs.
“I don’t mind saying I was one of the guys who caught Covid-19,” said Blaze. “I don’t know how, I don’t know where, because, to be fair, the only place I go is from home and to the training ground and to the Ricoh Arena and home again. It was unfortunate, but I suppose it’s the current climate we live in.”
He wasn’t alone. An outbreak of positive tests within the camp forced the club’s training ground at Broadstreet RFC to be locked down for a week heading into the showdown with the newly-crowned champions of Europe.
At one stage, one additional positive test within the group could’ve seen Wasps withdrawn from the final and Bristol Bears, so comfortably defeated in the semi-final, given an unexpected shot at glory.
Do the thing we love
Within the playing squad, Brad Shields also tested positive for the virus while the likes of Kieran Brookes, Simon McIntyre and Alfie Barbeary were also ruled out, whether it was through contact tracing protocols or positive tests. All were among the absentees from the final which saw Wasps go agonisingly close to snatching a victory before Exeter rode a late storm to win 19-13.
Blaze reluctantly watched on from home but kept a strong sense of perspective despite the injustice of not being able to take his rightful place on October 24.
“At the time it was frustrating,” he said. “But when you take a step back and think we can still do the thing we love, you just have to take that one on the chin.
“I think for the squad, myself as well, there’s some others as well, who didn’t get that opportunity to go to the final. I think we’ve got to take a step back sometimes and be fortunate that we can actually still be doing our job in this current climate, when there’s other people at home who are having to care for others etc.
“You have to look at the bigger picture.”
Windows to express
At only 35 years of age, Blaze is the second youngest of Wasps’ youthful coaching group which consists of Matt Everard (29), head coach Blackett (38), Martin Gleeson (40), and defence coach Ian Costello – a comparative senior figure at the age of 43.
All five signed new deals with the club on the eve of the 2020/21 season, which kicked off with a 23-20 win over Bristol Bears last weekend.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my short period of time although it feels like a whole season,” he said. “We’re quite a young, enthusiastic coaching group. We’re quite challenging of each other, and hopefully that will put us as a coaching group and also as a club in good stead going forward.”
When aged just 25, a stress foot fracture ended Blaze’s promising rugby playing career a decade ago, almost to the day of the media session held in the build-up to Wasps’ trip to face Gloucester on Saturday.
He cut his teeth in coaching with the Leicester Tigers academy and second team and then worked with the England women’s rugby team. Blaze’s appointment at Wasps in April was one of the first made following Blackett’s promotion into the head coach position in the wake of Dai Young’s departure as director of rugby in February.
“Lee gives you windows to express yourself, your views and opinions,” said Blaze. “If you met him as a coach you wouldn’t think he was a natural back as a coach. He comes across more as a forward at times, he’s quite forthright with his opinions. Technically, he’s very savvy but as a young head coach I think he has been fantastic.
“One, working with me but also, if I was looking from the outside in, I think he’s got a very balance opinion on things.”