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RUGBY UNION: Welsh target bumper gate

Witney Gazette: London Welsh’s Carl Kirwan drives at the Leeds Carnegie defence during the first leg defeat London Welsh’s Carl Kirwan drives at the Leeds Carnegie defence during the first leg defeat

London Welsh chief executive Mike Stevens wants fans to turn out in force as they bid to reach the Greene King IPA Championship final.

Stevens, who took up office yesterday, is hoping for a bumper crowd and passionate atmosphere on Sunday as the Exiles host Leeds Carnegie in their semi-final, second leg at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium (12.45pm).

Welsh trail 38-31 from the first leg, but believe home advantage can play a big role in overcoming the deficit and continuing their Premiership push.

Stevens admitted he has “a lot to do” in his new role, but is focused on the short term for now.

“The first goal is to get as big a crowd as we can for the Leeds play-off on May 18,” he said.

“We are doing a kids for a quid promotion for that.

“We want to create as much of an atmosphere as we can to get behind the players.

“The Kassam Stadium is such a great stadium.

“It has got a lot of space within its grounds and we need to work out how to turn it into a mini Twickenham or Millennium Stadium.”

Although home crowds have been less than 1,500 on average this season, Stevens hopes for far more on Sunday and for matches next season – regardless of which league Welsh are in.

“We got a 10,000 crowd against London Wasps 18 months ago,” he said.

“If you look at what London Irish and London Wasps have done. They had to start small.

“When London Irish moved to Reading, they were playing in front of small crowds, but now on the St Patrick’s day game they get crowds of 22,000.”

Stevens added: “The key part for me is what happens off the field.

“Justin Burnell and his coaching and playing team are looking after things on the field. I have 100 per cent confidence in them.”

And as he begins his tenure, former Abingdon Vale cricketer Stevens has personal reasons for wanting to suceed.

“I have lived in Abingdon on and off since 1992,” he said. “The opportunity for me is a great one from a career perspective, but it is also about making an impact locally.

“Although I am not Abingdon born and bred, I count it as my home.”

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