Warriors suffered an agonising defeat in the European Rugby Challenge Cup opener with Pau snatching victory with an injury-time try from flanker Atoine Erbani at the Stade de Hameau.
A brave defensive effort against Pau’s heavyweight pack almost got Warriors only their fifth win on French soil until Erbani burrowed over under the posts with the very last play of the game.
Instead of a memorable win Warriors had to content themselves with a losing bonus point and a performance full of heart and commitment.
Two first half tries – a penalty try and a cheeky one from Gareth Simpson – gave Warriors the initiative but Pau’s power close to the line ultimately proved decisive.
Warriors played with pace and ambition from the start and took the lead with penalty try after 12 minutes when Will Butler chipped through and both he and Ashley Beck were impeded as they tried to follow up.
Butler thought that he had beaten the Pau defence to the touchdown but when Italian referee Andrea Piardi consulted with the TMO, Cyril Lafon, he awarded Warriors seven points.
Pau responded by using their juggernaut pack to batter their way to the line and tighthead prop Nicolas Corato burrowed over with scrum-half Samuel Marques adding the extras.
But Warriors continued to play a composed tactical game and which put Pau under pressure in defence. When Pau infringed under pressure it seemed certain that Jamie Shillcock would go for goal but the quick-thinking Simpson tapped the penalty and nipped over for the try which Shillcock converted from far out.
Pau continued to use their big forwards as their main ball carriers but Warriors repeatedly frustrated them with some heroic defence.
But the pressure eventually told in first half injury time when Pau won a five metre scrum and right wing Eoghan Barrett cut through from an angled run and Marques levelled again with the conversion.
Pau squandered a golden opportunity to take the lead early in the second half when they had a three-to-one overlap but Ed Fidow pushed up in defence and his intervention forced a knock-on.
Pau did take the lead when Marques slotted a 52nd minute penalty but that was swiftly cancelled out by one from Shillcock who then nudged Warriors back in front after Fidow intercepted deep in his 22 and was hauled down just short at the other end by a high tackle.
It looked like being Warriors’ night when Clovis Le Bail, Pau’s replacement scrum-half, shanked a 70th minute penalty with his first attempt at goal.
But Pau applied pressure to win a penalty at a scrum and instead of taking three points they gambled and won with Caleb Montgomery being sin-binned for illegally checking a driving maul.
From the resulting lineout, Pau muscled their way infield and Erbani crashed over.
Warriors | 15 Chris Pennell (CC), 14 Alex Hearle, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Will Butler (CC), 11 Ed Fidow (van Breda 69), 10 Jamie Shillcock, 9 Gareth Simpson (Kitto 53), 1 Mac Thomas (Owen 71), 2 Beck Cutting Miller (63), 3 Conor Carey (Verden 41), 4 George Merrick (Montgomery 53), 5 Justin Clegg, 6 Joe Batley, 7 Sam Lewis, 8 Morgan Monks (Williams 53).
Replacements | 16 Isaac Miller, 17 Kai Owen, 18 Kieran Verden, 19 James Scott, 20 Caleb Montgomery, 21 Matti Williams, 22 Jono Kitto, 23 Scott van Breda.
12m | Penalty try 0-7
16m | Corato try 5-7
17m | Marques con 7-7
22m | Simpson try 7-12
23m | Shillcock con 7-14
40m | Barrett try 12-14
40m | Marques con 14-14
52m | Marques pen 17-14
56m | Shillcock pen 17-17
62m | Shillcock pen 17-20
80m | Erbani try 22-20
80m | Le Bail con 24-20