Warriors narrowly missed out on a consolation bonus point which would have been just reward for a brave effort against a huge Castres pack at a soggy Stade Pierre-Fabre on Saturday.
Warriors played a canny tactical kicking game, similar to the one that brought them victory against Ospreys in this competition last year, but on this occasion it was not quite enough to force victory.
A penalty seven minutes from time from Benjamin Urdapilleta gave Castres an eight point lead which was enough to keep Warriors out of bonus point range and meant they returned empty-handed from their long trip to the south of France.
Try scoring opportunities were at a premium for both teams but Castres converted the two they had in the first half when wing Filipo Nakosi barrelled over – albeit with a suspicion of a knock-on in the build-up – and flanker Baptiste Delaporte dotted down after Castres found a gap in the defence.
Warriors had to settle for three penalties from Duncan Weir which kept them in the hunt until Urdapilleta’s late strike.
The result meant that Ryan Mills was unable to celebrate becoming only the 23rd Warriors player to make 100 first team appearances with a victory.
Jamie Shillcock reached the 50 appearances milestone when he came on as a second half replacement for Chris Pennell.
Warriors drew first blood when Castres were penalised for blocking from a kick ahead and Weir landed the penalty.
But Castres cancelled out that score with their first incursion into Warriors’s 22. They shipped the ball wide from a lineout and Filipo Nakosi, their burly right wing, barrelled over in the corner despite the best efforts of Perry Humphreys and Cornell du Preez to keep him out.
Referee Sean Gallagher consulted the Television Match Official before the try was awarded and Benjamin Urdapilleta, Castres’ Argentina international fly-half, banged over the conversion from touch.
Warriors attempted to nullify the threat posed by Castres’ juggernaut pack and hefty centres by playing a clever territorial kicking game.
It frustrated Castres for most of the first half but they eventually found a chink of space in the defence and blindside flanker Baptiste Delaporte managed to muscle his way over the second try which Urdapilleta also converted.
Warriors responded with a long run from Francois Venter, supported by Chris Pennell. Castres were penalised at the breakdown but the referee played advantage and Michael Heaney almost put Ted Hill in at the corner with a superb crossfield kick.
The ball was dislodged from Hill’s grasp in the tackle on the line and Warriors opted to take the three points on offer with a second penalty from Weir.
Urdapilleta had the chance to restore Castres’ 11 point advantage in the final minute of the first half when he attempted to kick a penalty from five metres inside his own half. The kick had the range but not the direction and drifted wide.
Weir reduced the gap with a long range penalty early in the second half and Warriors produced some patient approach work in attack.
But Warriors were heavily penalised at the breakdown and the turning point came when Mills threaded a grubber kick through the advancing defence and Castres were quick to turn defence into a counter-attack.
Warriors managed to get back to halt the attack but conceded a penalty which was compounded when GJ van Velze was sin-binned for the last ten minutes. Having played advantage, the referee brought play back for the earlier penalty which Urdapilleta landed.
Warriors | 15 Chris Pennell (Shillcock 58), 14 Perry Humphreys, 13 Francois Venter (Lawrence 63), 12 Ryan Mills (C), 11 Ed Fidow, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Michael Heaney (Hougaard 58), 1 Ethan Waller (Black 48), 2 Niall Annett (Moulds 54), 3 Conor Carey (Schonert 54), 4 Anton Bresler (Clegg 64), 5 Graham Kitchener, 6 Ted Hill, 7 Sam Lewis, 8 Cornell du Preez (van Velze 54).
Replacements | 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Callum Black, 18 Nick Schonert, 19 Justin Clegg, 20 GJ van Velze, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Jamie Shillcock.
8m | Weir pen 0-3
13m | Nakosi try 5-3
14m | Urdapilleta con 7-3
26m | Delaporte try 12-3
27m | Urdapilleta con 14-3
33m | Weir pen 14-6
46m | Weir pen 14-9
73m | Urdupilleta pen 17-9