Leicester Tigers suffered a first defeat of their European Challenge Cup campaign as Pau won 24-17 at the Stade du Hameau on Saturday but the bonus point grabbed with a penalty 10 seconds from full-time was enough to book a home quarter-final.
Tigers headed to the south of France with a quarter-final place already in the bag after wins in each of the opening five rounds. But, after victory over Castres in Pool 1 on Friday evening, they still needed to take something from their own Pool 5 encounter to book a home game in the last eight.
Pau, with three wins and defeats away to Tiger and Cardiff Blues in the pool, kicked off in the knowledge that only a win would give them a say in the knockout stages.
Tigers, making a first visit to Pau in almost two decades, were led out by Manu Tuilagi, taking the captaincy for a first time, and with Geordan Murphy rotating the squad as he has done throughout the tournament.
Looking to avenge a 41-20 defeat at Welford Road in Round 1, Pau got off to the best possible start with two converted tries in the opening six minutes before Tigers steadied the ship and got off the mark with a Noel Reid score.
But Pau, making the most of possession and territory advantage, and using heavy carriers up front as well as their threats out wide, added a third try just a minute before half-time when Tigers were down to 14 men after a yellow card for George Worth and the home side led 24-7 at the break.
Tigers started the second half strongly but had to wait until the hour mark for another try, but held their composure to stay within reach of the precious bonus point secured with the late kick.
Pau got the game under way with the sun and the breeze at their backs and they had to wait just three minutes to get points on the board with a try on the right from wing Vincent Pinto after outnumbering Tigers out wide.
Antoine Hastoy added the conversion and the fly-half had the ball on the tee again just two minutes later following another score from Pinto as Pau attacked out wide at every opportunity.
The hosts threatened again with numbers on the left following a tap penalty near halfway but referee Ben Whitehouse called them back for a forward pass and, from the scrum, the left boot of Rory Hughes took play 40 metres upfield.
Adam Thompstone’s kick-chase took play up to the opposition 22 and from anther scrum, Tigers had a penalty which Hardwick nudged into the right-hand corner. After safely securing ball, Tigers quickly played out to the left and, with penalty advantage again, Hardwick chipped over the defence but Thompstone at full stretch couldn’t get a decisive touch over the tryline.
Coming back for the penalty, Tigers kept ball in the forwards after Joe Batley’s lineout catch in the corner and, with backs joining the push to the line, Reid added the finishing touch. Hardwick added a perfect kick from the right touchline to make it 14-7 on 17 minutes.
Reid was then back in defence to intercept a Pau break from halfway and also led the race to a kick in behind the Tigers defence before picking his way back out of the 22.
Worth turned attack into defence with a charge out from the back and his neat kick down the left touchline almost brought a second score as Hughes slid to hack ball on and Reid dotted down. But replays showed the ball had bounced into touch as Hughes intervened. It was also the Scot’s last involvement as he left the field, replaced by Jonah Holmes.
Tigers lost Worth to a yellow card for a high tackle on Hastoy but kept out three more waves of Pau attacks before Hastoy landed a penalty and then converted a third try when prop Teddy Leffler finished a lineout drive on the right to make it 24-7 at half-time.
Tuilagi’s 30-metre break at the start of the second half took Tigers to within 10 metres of the tryline and, although he found Holmes in support, Pau quickly recovered to shut out the wing.
Hardwick was then denied in the opposite corner but the Tigers pack had their rivals under pressure on their own tryline, winning the scrum battle and inching towards the line only for Thompstone to be held up over the whitewash.
It was a let-off for Pau as they also won a penalty at the resulting scrum in front of the posts after almost 10 minutes of play inside their own 22 at the start of the half.
But they made the most of their opening phases of play in attack, eventually creating a chance for Ben Smith on the right. He reached out to get the ball down just as Tuilagi made the tackle and, although the crowd celebrated a fourth score, the referee wanted to chek the replays and disallowed it.
Dan Cole and Greg Bateman joined the Tigers front row and Jordan Taufua reinforced the back row, making an immediate impact with a penalty gain at the breakdown.
Another break by Tuilagi, this time wide on the right, beat three defenders before Pau were penalised at the breakdown and Hardwick took play within 15 metres of the tryline and this time, after Ifereimi Boladau attacked the line, replacement scrum-half Ben White picked up and darted in to score. Hardwick’s kick made it 24-14 with quarter of an hour still to play.
But also lost a man to the sin-bin, though somehow sent on a replacement and continued with 15 men for a few moments before the situation was rectified and play continued with Tigers on the attack.
White almost wriggled free again 10 metres out before play was called back for a Tigers scrum against a seven-man Pau pack.
But after winning a free-kick at the set-piece, Pau made the most of the escape as they kept play in Tigers territory, meeting stern defence but recycling ball for multiple phases through their forwards. When they finally gained a penalty for a high tackle, they kicked to the corner but the Tigers defence wrapped up the maul and earned a scrum of their own.
Tigers kept play in the opposition half and eventually won a scrum penalty which provided one last chance.
Hardwick was trusted with the kick from 40 metres and safely made it with just 10 seconds remaining on the clock. Although Pau did restart, it was Tigers who got the ball off the field with one point safely banked.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT
Thank you for following our Matchday Live coverage from France this afternoon, whether you're here at the Stade du Hameau or elsewhere.
Tigers now face an anxious wait to see who they'll face - and where they'll play - in their European quarter-final.
Geordan Murphy's men are next in action in the Gallagher Premiership, away to Bath Rugby next Saturday, January 25 (3.00pm).
Until then, goodbye.
FULL TIME | 24-17
Pau take the win on home soil, but Tigers claim what could prove to be an important bonus point as the quarter-finals shake out in the Challenge Cup.
BACK WITHIN SEVEN!
Hardwick makes no mistake with his kick, and brings Tigers back within range for what could be a crucial losing bonus-point.
HARDWICK CALLS FOR THE TEE...
Tigers win a penalty at the scrum, and after the advantage is lost down the right-hand side, we're brought back for a shot at goal...
SHUFFLE THE BACKS
Costelow stands at first receiver, with Hardwick and Reid outside him at 12 and 13.
BACK ON HALFWAY
There's some late excitement for the home crowd as Pau hack through and look to dot down, but there was a knock-on on halfway. Holmes gets to the ball first, anyway.
We'll restart with another scrum, with just over two minutes left to play...
Manu Tuilagi's game is done, with Sam Costelow coming on in his place.
UP THE FIELD
Tigers work it, metre by metre, up the pitch and win another penalty on the floor. Hardwick kicks for a lineout just beyond the Pau 22.
The Tigers pack win a crucial penalty, right on their line, as they hold up a Pau maul.
We'll restart with a green scrum, but not before Pau get back to 15 men after their yellow card. Baptiste Pesenti is back with us, and Omar Odishvili will be with us in the front row for the rest of this game.
LEWIS FOR SPENCER
Will Spencer takes a seat in the dugout, with Sam Lewis joining the fray in his place.
Pau pull all of their players across to the left - leaving no-one beyond the posts on this near side - but the ball bounces forward off one of their second rows and into touch.
TAUFUA OVER THE BALL
Jordan Taufua has made a real nuisance of himself since joining this game, and gets over the ball once again as Pau work into the Tigers 22 ... but he's told to release it.
KICK TO THE CORNER
Joe Batley is pinned into a Pau breakdown well into Tigers territory, but he's done by the referee for not rolling away. Replacement fly-half Taylor kicks to the corner.
SCRUM IN THE 22
Tigers have a scrum in the Pau 22 as the home side bring a replacement prop on to make it contestable, but referee Whitehouse pings Leicester for walking through the mark.
YELLOW CARD | GEOFFREY MOISE
The loosehead is now, finally, in the sin bin.
CONFUSION AT STADE DU HAMEAU
Pau make a couple of changes, but referee Whitehouse thinks they've got too many players on the pitch. Turns out he showed a yellow card to Geoffrey Moïse in the aftermath of Ben White's score, and he shouldn't have been replaced by Omar Odishvili.
Elsewhere, Atila Septar is off for Charly Malié.
1 for 17, and 11 for 23
Hardwick kicks the conversion to cap off the first points of this half.
CHANGE AT HOOKER
Jake Kerr replaces Tatafu Polota-Nau in the Tigers front row.
WHITE SNIPES OVER
Tigers have payback from their pressure in the Pau half, and Ben White finishes off a heavy-duty forwards move in the right-hand corner.
Both sides go to the air as they attempt to find territory, and Hardwick is wrapped up as he tries to bring the rally to an end with a run up the middle.
Tuilagi breaks down the right, and Tigers win the penalty at the breakdown a few phases later.
CHANGE AT NINE
Harry Simmons' first European appearance is at and end, as Ben White comes onto the field ... with his first job to feed into a Tigers scrum on the far side.
THREE MORE CHANGES
Luke Whitelock, Samuel Marques and Tom Taylor are all onto the pitch in place of Lekima Tagitagivalu, Thibault Daubagna and Antoine Hastoy.
TAKEN INTO TOUCH
Tigers push up on the left this time, but Simmons is taken out as he passes to Holmes, who does his best to tidy up. Dan Cole and Ben Smith seem to share a couple of 'words'...
Baptiste Pesenti and Teddy Leffler are off, with Daniel Ramsay and Thomas Poulain into the game.
Jordan Taufua replaces Sione Kalamafoni in the Tigers back row.
The Kiwi makes his impact immediately, winning a penalty on the floor to get his side onto the front foot.
TMO | NO TRY!
Pau thought they had their bonus-point try - and a place in the knockout rounds as Ben Smith reaches out to dot down over the line ... but after extended replays, it's chalked off.
And both replacements are into the match immediately, packing down into a brilliant Tigers scrum that obliterates the Pau pack.
Tigers change both of their props, with Facundo Gigena and Joe Heyes making way for Greg Bateman and Dan Cole, respectively.
Pau kick deep to Hardwick, who lines up Sione Kalamafoni to run up to the French defenders, and he breaks through a couple of tackles before being brought down on the 10-metre line.
PAU RUN IT!
We're in the wrong part of France for champagne rugby, right?
Let's just call it 'sparkling rugby' as Pau attempt to run it out of their 22. They don't on the first time of asking, but win a penalty and boot the ball downfield, and up to halfway.
Pau win a scrum penalty, which is popular with the locals.
Needless to say, Boris is not amused.
THOMPSTONE HELD UP
Tigers go again from the base, with Hardwick running another curving line round the back for Thompstone, who breaks around the corner and over the whitewash.
The away supporters cheer ... but the referee calls it as held up. Another scrum, this time right under Pau's posts.
FRONT ROW CHANGE
Pau swap hooker Rayne Barka for Quentin Lespiaucq. Try typing that one in a hurry with cold hands.
BACK TO 15 MEN
George Worth rejoins the action following his yellow card.
Tigers keep trying to knock the door down, but the hinges hold strong ... for now.
Hardwick chips over for Reid, but the centre is offside from the kick and we're brought back for another scrum in the corner.
HARDWICK BROUGHT DOWN
Tigers have a lineout, and the ball is worked right after missing the man in the air, but Hardwick can't get past on the right-hand side.
Instead, his forward pack will have a go, as we restart with a scrum.
TUILAGI BREAKS THROUGH
Manu Tuilagi is fed the ball at pace, and he breaks past the first line of defence with a trademark run round the corner. He finds Holmes on the left, but he's brought down just metres from the line.
SECOND HALF GETS GOING
We're back underway in Pau as Tom Hardwick kicks deep at the start of this second half.
HALF TIME | 24-7
Tigers trail at the break in the south of France in their final pool game in the European Challenge Cup.
Hastoy marches back to the 22 for his conversion attempt, and it's through. And that's the final action of the half.
PAU DRIVE OVER
The home side have their third try after a powerful drive from their lineout, scored by tighthead Teddy Leffler.
SMITH DANCES THROUGH
The ball comes back for former All Black full-back Smith, who shows just why Pau chased his signature so hard.
He shimmies past three defenders - maybe with a little help from one of his team-mates getting in the line - to set up a possible score on the right.
Whitehouse seems to watch the replays on the big screen for a little while, but calls for a lineout throw on Tigers' five-metre line.
SIMMONS KICKS FREE
Pau kick the ball into a promising position in the corner, but Tigers win the ball back and Simmons can drill it downfield with a tidy box kick of his own. He wins a lineout on the edge of the 22.
YELLOW CARD | GEORGE WORTH
Worth is shown a yellow for the contact, and shakes Pinto's hand as he leaves the field for 10 minutes in the bin.
JEERS FROM THE CROWD
The partisan crowd are showing their displeasure at contact between Worth and try-scorer Pinto on the far side.
The wing stays down, and the referee decides to take a look at the replays on the screen.
THROUGH THE GEARS
Simmons whips the ball out quickly from a scrum in the Tigers half, and the backs put it through the hands on the left ... but there's not quite enough space, and a few too many defenders out there for that one to work.
THREE FROM THE TEE
Hastoy makes no mistake from in front of the posts, and adds three more to Pau's tally. They lead, 17 points to seven.
SHOT AT GOAL
Fortunes are reversed from the last scrum, and Pau have the penalty this time around, but Simmons stops them from taking it quickly. Instead, Pau point to the posts...
The home side work their way back into the Tigers 22 toset up a decent rolling maul off their lineout, though the green wall stands firm as they ball is pulled out to the right, and Tigers win the put-in at a scrum in front of their own posts.
HOLMES FOR HUGHES
That will be Highes' last involvement of the game, too, as he's replaced by the returned-from-injury Jonah Holmes on the elft wing.
TIGERS DENIED A SCORE
Take it from us, that would have been brilliant. But it's not to be.
Worth digs the ball through on the left and Hughes seems to do a good job of keeping it in field for Reid to touch down for Tigers' second.
But referee Whitehouse wants another look at the replays, which show Hughes to be just in touch.
REID CLEARS UP AGAIN
Noel Reid almost single-handedly clears up the latest Pau threat, chasing back for a ball dabbed through behind, and beating the first man to find his support. Nice.
HARDWICK HOISTS IT
Hardwick's penalty restart finds touch on halfway, and as Tigers win their lineout he gets another chance to kick downfield - this time hoisting one high for full-back George Worth to claim after a bounce off his opposite number.
PAU BROUGHT BACK
You can really tell that Pau need a bonus-point win from this game - they're running it from everywhere.
Fly-half Hastoy combines with inside centre Watisoni Votu to carve up the middle of the Tigers line, but just as they find clear ground referee Whitehouse brings the game back for crossing. Phew.
...but Wells climbs highest to claim the Pau throw. Tigers have the ball back in their half.
PAU FIND TOUCH
There's a slight scuffle off the ball as one of the French forwards goes after all 6'7" of Will Spencer - rather you than us - but Pau have the penalty.
Hastoy kicks into the 22...
REID ON RED ALERT
Pau break up the field once again with some neat inter-play between half-backs Hastoy and Daubagna, but Noel Reid - possibly the scorer of that Tigers try - is there to close down the threat.
The men in green, white and red get over the ball, too, and win the penalty on the floor.
HARDWICK ADDS THE EXTRAS
Hardwick's touchline conversion curls through the uprights, and Tigers are back in this game.
TIGERS DRIVE OVER
Tigers go for the rolling maul from the reset lineout, and they drive through the guts of the home defence over the line. Polota-Nau comes up with the ball, but we'll chalk that one up as a team try for now...
THOMPSTONE DOTS DOWN
Tigers thought they were over, then ... but it's not to be.
Harry Wells was the target at the lineout, before the ball made it out to the backs via captain Tuilagi. Hardwick chipped over the top for Thompstone to dot down ... but replays show he was ever-so-slightly offside.
Tigers have the penalty advantage and get a second lineout.
SECOND TIME OF ASKING
The scrum penalty goes Leicester's way at the second time of asking, and Hardwick drills the ball into touch to win a five-metre lineout.
A real strong shove from the Tigers forwards gives them good ground, but Whitehouse calls for the two teams to have another go after he judges the front rows to have driven upwards. We'll go again.
INTO THE 22
Tigers are into the Pau 22 for the first time in this game, after a neat kick from loanee Rory Hughes is returned and followed up with a real tester from Adam Thompstone.
Pau then give away the penalty, and Tigers will have a scrum in the right area of the pitch.
Referee Ben Whitehouse blows for the first scrum of the game, on the far side of the field.
Pau come away with it off their ball, and put it through hands to the left ... but they're brought back for a forward pass. Scrum down again, this time with Simmons to feed.
Hastoy takes two more points with the boot to create a 14-point lead.
Pau gather the restart and run it from their 22 and, despite an eyebrow-raising pass in midfield, have a second try through Pinto.
The Pau fly-half adds the extras, and the home side lead seven points to nil.
PAU STRIKE EARLY
Polota-Nau finds his man at the line out and the ball is once again kicked downfield, but full-back Ben Smith runs a nice line past the first defender and draws the man to give Vincent Pinto a run in on the right.
EARLY PAU POSSESSION
Harry Simmons - on his first start of the season - returns the ball well into the home half, and the Pau forwards hit it up as they creep towards halfway.
They can't break through, though, and opt for territory with a neat touchfinder on this nearside. Tatafu Polota-Nau will throw, just inside his own 22.
KICK OFF IN PAU
And we're underway in France! Antoine Hastoy boots the ball deep into Tigers territory to start the game.
ONTO THE FIELD
Both sides take to the turf, which is a bit boggy underfoot - especially on this nearside, in front of the dugouts. Let's hope there aren't too many scrums on this side of the pitch!
MOMENTS TO GO
Tigers complete their final warm-ups under the French sunshine, and we're just moment away from kick off.
There's quite the atmosphere here at the Stade du Hameau, as the home crowd get into their pre-match anthem...
CONFIRMED TEAM NEWS
Manu Tuilagi returns from injury to captain the men wearing green, white and red this afternoon.
The England international centre has missed the last three games with a groin injury but returns to lead Tigers for the first time.
There is also a return from injury for Jonah Holmes, who was this week named in the Wales squad for the Six Nations Championship, while Harry Simmons is set for his first start of the season at scrum-half.
Pau call on former All Black full-back Ben Smith, with fellow New Zealander Luke Whitelock taking a place among the replacements. Thibault Daubagna, who scored in the reverse fixture earlier in the competition, captains the side from scrum-half.
You can see the full match line-ups by clicking here, or scrolling down on this page.
BATLEY BACKS TIGERS TO BUILD AGAINST PAU
Tigers forward Joe Batley asserts the Leicester side are not getting ahead of themselves in European competition, even with a quarter-final place already secured.
“Last week [against Cardiff] was a good solid win for us, but we’ve got more in the tank, so we’re going to try and replicate that against Pau,” explained the on-loan lock.
“They’ll be physical, just like any French side. Maybe a little bit of joué as well, but if you allow them to get on top of you in any way, whether that be scrums, mauls or at the breakdown then that gives them real rise, but we’re aiming to shut them down early.
“The scrum will be a huge challenge for us, but we’ve got a good plan in place.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in our scrum, and in the last few weeks it’s kept us on the front foot against a lot of teams, so we need to make sure that we keep going. This week will be a different challenge, but one that we’re relishing.”
WELLS URGES TIGERS TO ‘KICK ON’
Harry Wells, named in the back row for this afternoon’s game, has urged his Tigers side to ‘kick on’ in European competition.
“Nothing changes for us,” he said, when asked how the side will approach their final pool game.
“We’re going [there] to win, and we’ve put ourselves in a good position to kick on in this competition.”
And, with one eye on next week’s return to the Gallagher Premiership, Wells feels that a strong performance this afternoon will keep the ball rolling in domestic action – as back-to-back wins over Rugby Calvisano did in December.
“Momentum will be really important going into Bath [in the Premiership],” he added. ”We’ll make sure to roll on from there.”
You can read more of the forward’s match preview here.
ROUND 6 PREVIEW
Tigers sit top of the pile in Pool 5 ahead of this afternoon’s match – and will stay there regardless of results this afternoon – but a home quarter-final is still at stake.
Geordan Murphy’s men need two points from the Challenge Cup clash to set up a knockout tie at Welford Road, though there is a strong Pau side standing between them and their goal in Round 6.
The first meeting of these two clubs ended in a 41-20 victory for Tigers at Welford Road, with Jonah Holmes claiming four tries. Pau’s only other defeat in the opening five rounds was at Cardiff Blues in December.
Read our European preview with some of the permutations here, or scroll down on this page.
WELCOME TO MATCHDAY LIVE!
We’re LIVE from the Stade du Hameau in the south of France for Tigers’ final pool game in the European Challenge Cup, with kick-off to come at 2.00pm local time (1.00pm UK time).
You can follow all the action as it happens with our Matchday Live coverage, right here on the Tigers App and LeicesterTigers.com.