Ben Youngs says the fans "add a huge amount” as Leicester Tigers prepare to sign-off their home campaign against Bristol Bears in the first game played in front of supporters Mattioli Woods Welford Road stadium since February 2020.
A sell-out reduced-capacity crowd of 6,400 has been confirmed ahead of matchday, with supporters housed on three sides of the stadium as a first step back from Covid-19 closure.
Scrum-half Youngs, ahead of his 263rd appearance for Tigers, said: “We’ve had a couple of games away now with crowds back in but this is the first for us at home and we’re certainly looking forward to welcoming them back. The crowd lifts the energy and emotion, the fans add a huge amount.
“We have guys who have come out of the academy or have come into the club who have not had the opportunity yet to play in front of our crowd and they can finally get a taste of it even if it is not a full stadium
“It has been tough playing without them there and we look forward to it.”
Sixth-placed Tigers have recorded successive victories over Harlequins and away to Worcester Warriors in the last two games and head a tightly-packed group of teams behind the top five with just two games remaining in the season.
The only home defeat for Steve Borthwick’s side in any tournament since the end of January was against Northampton in Round 17.
Bristol have lost just twice in the Gallagher Premiership since Round 8 in February, with both defeats coming in their last four matches, at home to Exeter Chiefs and away to Sale Sharks.
Victory over Tigers would guarantee a home tie in the semi-finals with a place in the top four already assured alongside Chiefs, Sharks and Quins.
Bristol have lost only once to the Tigers in their last five meetings – in January last year – but have won just once in Leicester the Premiership, in April 2019.
The teams have met on 186 previous occasions with Leicester winning 95 to 82 by Bristol and nine games drawn.
While Youngs looks forward to a big home welcome, fellow scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth is among the Tigers replacements and is set to become the first player in the history of Premiership rugby to make 300 appearances in the tournament.
Bristol give scrum-half Harry Randall a first Premiership start since his injury-enforced withdrawal from the England squad in January, and captain Steven Luatua also returns after missing the defeat at Sale.
Former Tigers hooker Harry Thacker, just back from injury in recent weeks, sits out but there is a place for fellow Leicester academy graduate Henry Purdy on the wing. Jake Kerr, who left Tigers earlier this season, is among the Bears replacements.
There is live coverage of today’s game on BT Sport 2HD and also on Channel 5.
You can also keep in touch with the club’s Matchday Live Service from wherever you are this weekend and vote for your Fans’ Favourite using the Tigers App. Make sure you’ve downloaded the most recent app update (Apple 2.11.0 or Android 36) to receive all of the latest news and info ahead of every matchday.
Round 21 fixtures
Friday: Sale Sharks v Harlequins
Saturday: Gloucester Rugby v Bath Rugby cancelled, Newcastle Falcons v Worcester Warriors (3.00pm), London Irish v Wasps (4.30pm)
Sunday: Northampton v Exeter Chiefs (3.00pm)