Pau have never finished higher than eighth since they were promoted to the Top 14 in 2015. Survival is probably the best they can hope for this time around, too. Here’s why…

Key signing

Mike Harris: To lose one kicking fly-half option was unfortunate, to lose two – in Colin Slade and Tom Taylor – could have been a disaster. The experienced Harris has been brought to take some of the weight of expectation off the shoulders of talented 23-year-old Antoine Hastoy.

Key departure

Colin Slade: The All Black quickly became a firm favourite when he joined the club after the 2015 World Cup, with his gutsy, fearless style. It’s a shame injury and Covid meant that he couldn’t get the send off he deserved before his move to Japan.

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They say

“There is an element that we cannot estimate: we know how to prepare players, but we do not know how this long break will affect the organisation (of the club).”

– President Bernard Pontneau, France Bleu

We say

We could point to the fact that Pau have not finished higher than eighth since winning promotion to the Top 14 back in 2015. We could say that their twelfth place finish in the coronavirus-shortened 2019/20 season only came courtesy of a win over Montpellier in what turned out to be the final round of the campaign that saw them overtake Stade Francais and Agen. We could also highlight Pau’s start to the season. After five rounds, they were third. They had won at Clermont and given Toulouse a real fright at Ernest Wallon.

Technical difficulties

Then it all went very wrong. A big loss at home to Racing exposed a major technical fault. Pau gave up ten lineouts that day and it turned into a chronic, season-long problem, one that Matt Philip and medical joker signing Steve Cummins have been brought in to solve.

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In the end, the best we can say about Pau’s 2019/20 season is that they survived. The most accurate thing we can say is it was tough. Wins over Castres at home and Bayonne on the road just about kept their heads above water. But during a seven-match losing streak that came to define their season, they lost at home to Toulon, Bordeaux, La Rochelle and Clermont as the fortress at Hameau crumbled.

Coaching conundrum

It was always odd. The coaching staff – led by Nicolas Godignon and Frederic Manca and assisted by Conrad Smith, who is now the club’s development director, Thomas Domingo (scrum), and Paul Tito (lineout) – appeared to have all the attributes, but the team sputtered and died after a decent enough start.

Matt Philip, Harris and Hugo Bonneval are all decent signings, but there is no denying that losing Slade is a major blow despite his final season turning out to be a sparse and difficult one in which he only played five times due to injury. He scored 568 points in 84 outings in Pau colours.

It all leads to the near inevitable conclusion that Pau will again be struggling at the wrong end of the table at the business end of the 2020/21 season.

Arrivals

Matt Philip, Tamua Manu, Mike Harris, Hugo Bonneval, Aminiasi Tuimaba, Eliott Roudil, Steve Cummins (medical joker)

Departures

Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Colin Slade, Tom Taylor, Pierre Nueno, Ben Smith, Bastien Pourailly

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