PLEASANT surprises have a nasty habit of letting you down in the end. That was certainly the case in Glasgow’s 35-27 defeat by Lyon on Saturday night, when the Warriors shocked their hosts by taking a 14-point lead at one stage only to succumb to some old familiar failings.

Given the fact that Lyon are top seeds in the Challenge Cup and are a formidable outfit, especially at their own Matmut Stadium, the way in which Danny Wilson’s side took the game to them in the quarter-final was a heartening defiance of expectations. And, when the visitors took that 14-point lead early in the second half, there were surely more than a few of their supporters who began to work out how best to get to Coventry for a semi-final this coming weekend against Wasps.

But in truth, Lyon never really looked out of the running. Knowing they had the physical prowess needed to get back into the battle, they remained composed, and won the match with a little to spare. 

The French club’s top-ranked status means they will again be at home in the semis, with Wasps needing to travel. And the Warriors’ defeat means that Danny Wilson and his squad are left once more wondering what it will take for them to close out a match at this level.

Speaking on the club’s website, Wilson insisted that he was proud of his team’s performance, and highlighted the fact that he had a lot of injuries to deal with, as well as mentioning the demanding travel programme that the squad have had in recent weeks. But he also acknowledged a self-evident truth: that if Glasgow are to win major knockout matches they must learn how to translate decent leads into actual victories.

“We’re missing 13 frontline players right now and that’s tough at the business end of the season,” the head coach said. “There’s a plus there in that we get guys like Gregor Brown, Nathan McBeth and Lewis Bean game time, but it’s tough.

“This group of players has gone Newcastle away, a double-header away in South Africa and now away to Lyon, all in a short space of time. That’s a long stretch away from home.

“To come out here and play with that level of passion in our game and put ourselves in the fight with a good lead against a very good and in-form Lyon team, I’m proud of the effort the boys showed.

“Key moments once again are hurting us, though. Once again we’ve got ourselves into a position to win the game, and we haven’t closed it out. That’s something we’re still addressing and that we need to hammer home until we fix it.”

You would expect the younger members of Wilson’s squad to benefit from playing at this level, but at the same time the coach has already made it clear that he wants to deepen the talent in the playing group.  The Warriors have already signed Tongan No 8 Sione Vailanu and South African lock JP du Preez for next season, and also been linked with another South African forward, Sintu Manjezi.

Durability and dynamism up front is clearly the key as the Warriors aim to keep improving. The inventiveness behind the scrum can produce some magical moments, but it would be all the more effective if the backs were on the front foot more frequently. Instead, they are too often reliant on counter-attacking from deep.

That is not to say that the Glasgow pack were always on the back foot - indeed, they had the upper hand for some sizeable stretches of the match. Over the piece, however, Lyon’s pack were more potent, while backs such as teenage winger David Niniashvili, who scored twice in his team’s second-half comeback, have exceptional talent.

Openside flanker Ally Miller admitted that the versatility Lyon were able to muster in attack was a key ingredient of their victory. “We’re gutted, to be honest,” he said after the match. “I felt we came out of the blocks well.

“We managed to build momentum and take our chances when they came, but Lyon just kept coming back at us and varied up their game plan. That kept giving them a foothold into the game and it ultimately told.

“The effort of everyone in that changing room – honestly, everyone gave everything they had. It’s just finding that 80-minute performance that we know we have in us. It’s frustrating for us and we know exactly what the fans are feeling.”

Wilson would clearly rather be preparing for a game this week, but the enforced rest will surely be beneficial for his team as they prepare for the game against Edinburgh a week on Saturday, when a place in next season’s Champions Cup will be at stake.