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Passionate Pau and a rugby pilgrimage

No, it can’t be, say it ain’t so, surely some mistake. This must be one of the great missed opportunities in world rugby.

The Tig is still coming to terms with the news as bags are packed and passports checked for the trip to the Pyrenees this weekend.

After nearly two decades of hearing colourful memories of visits to Pau, The Tig was warmed up and fully prepared for this one.

Then the thunderbolt struck.

It seems that the Black Bear bar is no more. Unless The Tig’s admittedly frail French is mistaken, Pau’s famous sports bar has long gone.

In Leicester, the legend lives on.

Tales of celebrations with the Tigers there back in 2000/01 are still shared around fans on matchdays back at Welford Road.

Owned by Robert Paparemborde, the legendary French prop of the 1970s and 80s and one of the greatest tightheads of any generation, a visit to the Black Bear was a requirement of a trip to his hometown club. Sadly, ‘The Bear of the Pyrenees’ as he was known in the French press, passed away in 2001 aged just 52 and now the bar has gone, too.

Nestled just 30 miles from the Spanish border and 60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, Pau is a proud city on the west end of the Pyrenees and while its rugby team has won just three league titles in their history and none since 1964, its name remains evocative of the passion and emotion in the French game.

Coupling that fierce protection of home turf with the class of their imports – notably from the All Blacks – and with their team hosting top-of-the-pool Tigers knowing victory would put them into a European quarter-final, the Black Bear may be gone but in many other ways it will feel like turning back the clock this Saturday.