Steve Borthwick led the praise for the Leicester Tigers supporters after a big home crowd cheered the team to victory in the opening game of the new season on Saturday.
After Tigers scored five tries in a 34-19 victory over Exeter Chiefs, head coach Borthwick said: “As always, I thanked the players, I was proud of their efforts, and also really grateful for the supporters of this club for how they helped the team today.
“It is a special ground at Mattioli Woods Welford Road and a special group of supporters.
“I knew that before I started here and unfortunately we have only had one or two games with them in the ground, but I thought today you saw how much they helped the team.
“I ask them, as I ask the players, let’s go again and help us on that journey.
Tigers were able to open all four stands for the first time in 18 months – since a win over Worcester Warriors in the 2019/20 season – and an attendance of more than 17,000 celebrated on the opening weekend of the Gallagher Premiership season.
In his matchday programme notes ahead of the game, club chairman Peter Tom told the #TigersFamily: “Your support has been huge in the period since the pandemic struck and, although you were unable to attend matchdays for such a significant period, your presence has been felt in so many ways. Thank you all for your commitment and your loyalty to the team.
“Your absence has been felt by everyone connected with the club and we hope this is the first of many more big days together here. Thank you for your valuable support – it has made a big difference in dealing with the events of the last 18 months.”
In welcoming supporters back to the stadium, chief executive Andrea Pinchen added: “I have seen some interesting stats on Premiership Rugby from last season which featured more tries per game than ever before, but the numbers mean very little without having the fans to enjoy them.
“We had a glimpse of that last season with restricted crowds at a handful of games but they reinforced just how much of a difference you all make and how important the atmosphere is in those matchdays.”
Reflecting on the Round 1 win, Borthwick said: “There were some good things from pre-season that were transferred into the game and we also have things to improve on, specifically we gave them opportunities with penalties.
“At the end of last season we were the best team in the Premiership in term of penalty count and today was poor in that respect. It is a sign we have to improve considerably in that area.
“We are pleased with the start but also understanding that Exeter are missing a lot of players. It is an Exeter team that has a lot of changes and we have to respect that.
“As always, we will find the things we need to do better, things we need to improve on, we attend to those and make sure we are better than this next Friday at Gloucester.”