A late try from Dean Hammond wasn’t enough to give Warriors their second European Challenge Cup victory as they went down to Zebre Rugby at Sixways.
The Italian side produced a dominant display as they quickly took a 10-0 lead courtesy of a converted Kayle Van Zyl try after full-back Ulrich Beyers had opened the scoring with a penalty from the half-way line.
Warriors forced their way into the game as Andy Symons converted a Luke Baldwin try before Kelly Haimona’s penalty gave Zebre a 13-7 lead at the break.
Symons exchanged penalties with replacement kicker Edoardo Padovani before the Zebre man added further penalties either side of Hammond’s score.
On a bitterly cold afternoon at Sixways, it was Warriors who launched the first real attack after five minutes as Alex Grove played a long ball out to the left before Hammond raced down the line.
The South African burst into the 22 and found Carl Kirwan, who produced a clever offload to Symons.
But Symons was bundled into touch before he had a chance to find a gap in the Zebre defence.
It looked as if Warriors’ chance had gone but Zebre lost their own lineout close to the tryline, allowing the hosts to fizz the ball across the backline.
Warriors were looking threatening as the searched for the first try of the day, but a knock-on ended the attack as Zebre cleared the danger.
And that allowed the visitors to take the lead five minutes later as full-back Ulrich Beyers struck a penalty from just inside the Warriors half.
The first points of the afternoon gave Zebre the upper hand and they added to their tally after 17 minutes as winger Van Zyl found himself on the end of a fine attacking move before racing through to ground.
Haimona’s conversion gave the visitors a 10-0 lead as Carl Hogg’s men looked shell-shocked.
Warriors had made a slow start but they were determined to get their second home European Challenge Cup victory of the season.
And Warriors soon had their first try of the afternoon after Baldwin stole the ball from a ruck and ran in unopposed to reduce the hosts’ deficit. Symons converted as the match started to open up.
Warriors were struggling to play the free-flowing brand of rugby so often witnessed at Sixways and Haimona took advantage of a penalty in the Warriors 22 to give Zebre a 13-7 lead.
And they could have gone further ahead as Beyers struck a penalty from a similar position to his first, this time finding himself off-target.
Huw Taylor and Dion Berryman were then forced to endure a spell in the sin-bin after separate incidents as both sides were reduced to 14 men.
The hosts looked to press forward as half-time approached but Tiff Eden couldn’t add to his side’s tally with a drop-goal attempt just before the break.
Warriors regrouped at half-time and looked to take the game to their Italian opponents in the second period.
Symons bisected the posts with his first penalty of the afternoon as the hosts found themselves just three points behind.
The hosts were starting to dominate possession but resolute defending from Zebre kept them ahead.
And Warriors may have felt it wasn’t going to be their day when Grove was unable to keep hold of Symons’ lovely offload with the tryline in sight.
The experienced Scotland international, who had been handed the captain’s armband for the day, would have more than fancied himself to dive over the tryline had he gathered the pass.
Warriors looked the more likely of the two sides to get the next try but went six points behind with just over 20 minutes to play as replacement Padovani struck his first penalty of the day.
But that only acted to make the hosts hungrier to claim victory and they went in search of the tryline as the visiting Jean Cook was yellow-carded.
Warriors had kicked the resulting penalty into touch as they looked to pile on the pressure, but Zebre stole the lineout and again cleared their lines.
Padovani soon added another penalty to stretch Zebre’s lead to 19-10 with ten minutes of the match remaining.
It looked as though Zebre would run away with the match but Warriors had other ideas as they continued to press forward.
And Warriors finally had their second try of the match as Grove claimed a pass, danced through the Zebre defence and teed-up Hammond who raced through to give his side a fighting chance late on.
Symons’ missed conversion meant Zebre still led 19-15 with three minutes to go and Warriors would need a try in the closing stages if they were to claim a dramatic victory.
But it wasn’t to be as Padovani added a penalty with the final kick of the game to give Zebre a 22-15 win.
Warriors: 15 Ben Howard, 14 Andy Short (Humphreys 66), 13 Alex Grove (C), 12 Andy Symons, 11 Dean Hammond, 10 Tiff Eden, 9 Luke Baldwin (Mulchrone 56); 1 Ryan Bower, 2 Ben Sowrey (George 64), 3 Gareth Milasinovich (Daniels 74), 4 Dan Sanderson (Cavubati 56), 5 Darren O’Shea, 6 Huw Taylor, 7 Carl Kirwan, 8 Marco Mama
Replacements: 16 Dan George, 17 Mike Daniels, 18 Nick Schonert, 19 Tevita Cavubati, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Charlie Mulchrone, 22 Ryan Mills, 23 Perry Humphreys
10m: Beyers pen 0-3
17m: Van Zyl try 0-8
18m: Haimona con 0-10
22m: Baldwin 5-10
23m: Symons con 7-10
27m: Haimona pen 7-13
43m: Symons pen 10-13
59m: Padovani pen 10-16
70m: Padovani pen 10-19
76m: Hammond try 15-19
80m: Padovani pen 15-22