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One for the fans but sadly at a distance

Even at 186,000 miles/sec, the light at the end of the Covid tunnel has sadly not travelled quickly enough to get the doors open to supporters at Mattioli Woods Welford Road this weekend.

Leicester versus Northampton is the game that supporters and players look forward to most when the fixture list is released each summer.

And this is not just The Tig selfishly championing the home support either. Rugby is, after all, a game for all shapes and sizes, no matter which colours you are wearing.

The fact that rival camps can stand or sit side by side and share the day together is one of the special things about our special sport.

It does not make our passion for our team any less, or theirs for theirs, but we all have good friends and passing acquaintances from opposition clubs – just look at the number of messages that have flown between Tigers and Ulster fans since the draw for the European semi-finals. And that despite, let’s say, some disappointing outcomes in games against the team from Northern Ireland.

For Tigers versus Saints, those friends can be neighbours, work colleagues or clubmates too.

There is nothing to match the roar of the crowd at Tigers, but even that goes up several notches when the opposition support arrives in numbers – witness the atmosphere of games against Saints, Munster, Ulster and a few others for proof of that in the not-too-distant past.

These games are all about tribalism and the fans bring out the best in each other from the stands, getting louder and louder to better the efforts of the opposition.

When The Tig thinks of Tigers versus Saints in recent years… Manu and Alesana, Hartley and Ashton, Murphy and Foden, Deacon and Lawes, all of those contests within the main contests, all of those big moments that add up to a whole game. And every one of them against a backdrop of passionate, packed stands.

The Tig also fondly recalls scores from Matt Smith who, as a true man of Leicester, seemed to keep many of his tries for games against Saints. And also the breakaway score by Horacio Agulla with the whole of the green, white and red parts of the stadium pushing him along the way.

Ben Youngs chose the opening minutes of his 250th appearance for the Tigers last season to run in a memorable try on the way to a home win, and teenager Freddie Steward landed an important kick from halfway just before half-time in the same game.

For balance, there was also once a score from scrum-half Mark Robinson in the corner where the shop once stood which gave Saints an away win, though it did come in a season they went down.

Going further back, you think about the frantic fury of the forwards in the Johnson, Shelford, Back, Rodber, Corry, Lam, Blowers, Pearce, Garforth, Rowntree and Cockerill years.

And that’s just focusing on games in Tigers territory.

The crowd is not a peripheral figure on occasions like these. The fans are an actual part of the game. They might not be face down in the grass but they react to every tackle, encourage every attack and energise every defensive effort.

Hopefully it will not be long now before we, too, are warmed up and ready for action.