London Irish director of rugby Declan Kidney hailed the return of supporters despite his side going down 31-12 to European champions Exeter on Tuesday.
Four thousand supporters – the most permitted under the relaxation of the Covid-19 guidelines – flocked to the Brentford Community Stadium and were treated to an entertaining encounter with the Premiership winners leading 19-12 at halftime before pulling away in the second half to guarantee their spot in the play-offs.
“It was brilliant to have the fans back in,” Kidney said.
“We were sorry not to give them the result they wanted but they were a fantastic lift to us and it up to us to give them something to row in behind now and we look forward to having them back again for the game against Wasps in a few weeks.”
The defeat was a fourth successive Premiership defeat for Irish, who had started the season in fine form and now face a battle to secure a top-eight finish and qualify for the European Cup next season.
Despite the loss, Kidney said his players showed they could compete with the best side in Europe and will be better for the experience.
“It’s disappointing to lose because it is small margins that let us down, and yet it is exciting because we are not too far off where we want to be,” he said.
“Exeter are 10 years down the road to us and have that bit of extra experience. We have lads who would be playing in that kind of game for the first time and that is how you learn.
“They had three British and Irish Lions playing for them and we had three of our academy guys playing for us and this time two years ago we were coming up from the Championship.
“But we don’t want to be talking about development too much because we have guys in the second halves of their careers and we don’t want to keep asking them to front up and not get the wins either.
“The younger fellas are getting experience and the older fellas are doing stoic work but we want to be winning more matches, that is the reason they came here to do.”