Glasgow Warriors were edged out in agonising fashion in Lyon this evening, falling to a 35-27 defeat at the hands of their hosts to exit the EPCR Challenge Cup at the quarter-final stage.
In front of a vocal crowd at the Stade Gerland, it would be a less than ideal start for the Warriors under the Lyon floodlights. A spillage at the kick-off saw the home side immediately hit the front foot, and whilst an interception from Sam Johnson would half the attack, a well-timed turnover from Davit Niniashvili would earn the hosts a penalty in front of the posts. Leo Berdeu duly obliged from the tee, and Lyon led 3-0 with merely seconds on the clock.
For all that the lion’s share of the early possession belonged to Lyon, though, the Warriors made no mistake when presented with an opportunity of their own. A turnover inside their own 22 saw Jamie Bhatti ship the ball to Johnson, who duly moved the ball on to Josh McKay. The winger turned on the jets to get away on the outside, chipping over Niniashvili and into space for Ali Price to chase. The scrum-half managed to get a toe to the ball before the retreating Toby Arnold, and the hack ahead sat up kindly for McKay to gather and race over for the score. Ross Thompson added the extras, and Glasgow led 7-3 after seven minutes.
Berdeu narrowed the gap with a penalty, but Glasgow were well and truly in the game and were just a fingertip away from a second score at the end of the opening quarter. A break through the middle from Cole Forbes saw the winger look for the offload to Price, with the pass going to ground but hacked forward by the scrum-half. With Price and Baptiste Couilloud grounding the ball virtually simultaneously, though, the TMO gave the benefit of the doubt to the home side, denying the Warriors a deserved score.
It would not remain a one-point game for long, however, with Thompson stepping up to notch a brace of penalties to round out the opening half-hour. After first punishing Demba Bamba for an infringement at the breakdown, another break from Forbes saw the home side cynically kill the ball 10 metres from their own try-line, Thompson dispatching the kick for a 13-6 lead.
A free-flowing game would see momentum swing back towards the home side on 35 minutes, though, as Lyon struck for a try of their own. Having seen a Beka Saginadze try correctly ruled out by the officials just moments before for a neck roll on Zander Fagerson, the Lyon supporters were in full voice as Baptiste Couilloud sniped his way over from a close-range quick tap penalty, Berdeu converting to level the scores at 13-13.
Yet there would be one final twist in the opening stanza, and it would be one that would send the Warriors into the interval in the ascendency. A penalty on halfway was kicked to touch, before the visitors exploited the space to stretch the Lyon defence. A Johnny Matthews break up the touchline took play into the hosts’ 22, and when the ball was whipped back across the field McKay was left with the simple task of drawing the last defender and sending Forbes in for the try. Thompson was on target from the tee with the conversion, giving Glasgow a 20-13 lead at half-time.
Danny Wilson’s men would pick up where they left off at the start of the second half, with Thompson and Price pinning the hosts inside their own 22 with a canny tactical kicking game. It would be that nous that would indirectly lead to Glasgow’s third try of the evening, with the pack taking centre stage. A monumental shove from the Warriors earned a scrum penalty which was kicked to the corner, and at the second time of asking the maul proved unstoppable. Only an illegal collapse from Berdeu could halt progress, with referee Matt Carley awarding a penalty try and dispatching the fly-half to the sin bin.
It would become 14 against 14 on 52 minutes, however, as Lyon came roaring back into the match. Jamie Bhatti would be the man shown yellow by Carley for a lineout infringement, and the home side took advantage of their field position. A brutally physical passage of play from both sides eventually saw Romain Taofifenua crash over from a metre out, Jean-Marc Doussain adding the conversion in the absence of Berdeu to bring the score to 27-20 to the Warriors after 56 minutes.
Lyon would have the extra man for just 90 seconds as the sin-bin periods overlapped, but the Frenchmen would take full advantage. Toby Arnold and Pierre-Louis Barassi would work the overlap in midfield, allowing Niniashvili to do the damage out wide. The Georgian winger raced over from 30 metres to touch down, and whilst Berdeu’s conversion drifted wide the home side had momentum.
In a hard-fought conclusion, it would be Lyon who would get the bounce of the ball. A penalty call from Carley gave Berdeu the chance to put his side in front from the Glasgow 22, one that he would accept to give the hosts a 28-27 lead with 10 minutes to play.
With the Warriors pressing for a turnover that they knew was crucial, they would be hit by a sucker punch with four minutes remaining. Holding advantage, Doussain’s clever chip in behind was regathered by Niniashvili that put the match beyond Glasgow, Berdeu’s conversion making it 35-27 and putting Lyon into the semi-finals.
For Glasgow, it’s all eyes on the 1872 Cup decider in a fortnight’s time, as Wilson’s men look to round out the regular season by getting back to winning ways.
Kick-off 5:30 pm