THE fact that this isn’t a new experience for Glasgow Warriors doesn’t make it any more palatable. Boom and bust is now a well-established pattern for the club. 

The team had travelled to Sandy Park for Saturday’s Champions Cup pool match against Exeter Chiefs high on confidence having beaten their English opponents 22-7 at Scotstoun last month.

They had also looked slick and purposeful when despatching Ospreys in the United Rugby Championship the previous week. After a bumpy first 18 months under Danny Wilson, there was a growing sense of belief within the squad that an identity had been developed which was capable of matching and bettering the best in Europe. 

Indeed, cub co-captain Fraser Brown spoke during the week about how he found it disrespectful that Exeter had rationalised their defeat at Scotstoun as an off day. It was a sentiment echoed by Wilson in a TV interview just before kick-off. 

Even when the game kicked-off, Warriors did a pretty good impression of a team which could go toe-to-toe against a genuine super-power such as the Chiefs. They trailed by just three points at half-time, then took the lead through Matt Fagerson’s try in early in the second half.  

But then the wheels came off, with six unanswered tries from the hosts bringing up the half century, to reinforce Exeter’s contention that they are a cut above their Scottish opponents when they hit their straps. Warriors had no excuses because this was as close as they could hope to be to their strongest team. They were left chasing shadows against bigger and better organised opponents, who didn’t produce anything you would describe as magical, but who played with unrelenting intelligence and intensity. 

There wasn’t much Wilson could say afterwards in mitigation. “I didn’t see it coming,” he shrugged. “We gave them so many entries into our 22, which is the one thing you can’t do against this opposition. Errors, penalties, you name it – all aspects of our game fell apart in the last 30 minutes."

That, of course, is true. But Wilson can’t have it both ways. Glasgow claimed pre-match that Exeter’s failure to perform at Scotstoun was because they hadn’t been allowed to. So, now that the shoe is on the other foot, they have to accept that they were harassed into making those countless errors their coach is referring to. 

“I said to them that we didn’t play our finest game of rugby in the first 50 minutes but we did enough to get into the lead,” added Wilson – which would be fine if games only lasted for 50 minutes. 

“There’s a very despondent group in the dressing room, a little bit shell-shocked,” he conceded.  “We’re not going to brush that under the carpet. We need to look at it and find out what happened, and also we need to bounce back very quickly and get on the [right] page.” 

Wilson is clearly hoping that this match can have the same sort of galvanising effect as the 46-19 drubbing the Warriors endured away to Benetton at the start of last season’s Rainbow Cup. That bitter experience proved to be a turning point for the team, and they went on to finish the 2020-21 season with four wins on the bounce. 

“We’ve had bombshell games before – every team has them in a season,” Wilson ventured. “That’s not been our recent form, every time we’ve had a bombshell game we’ve bounced back pretty quickly and that’s what we have got to do now.  

“We’ve got La Rochelle at home [next], which is another strong opposition, but if we can bounce back quickly, we can still get something from this competition.” 

Despite Saturday’s loss, Glasgow are still in the top eight of their 12 team pool, which means any sort of win over Le Rochelle should be enough to see them progress to the last 16 of the Champions Cup. 

For their part, La Rochelle – who were beaten finalists in last season’s Champions Cup – will bring the momentum of their 39-21 win over Bath on Saturday into this final pool game.  

However, Wilson and his team will be hoping that having qualification to the knock-out phase of the tournament already guaranteed will encourage their French visitors to approach this match at something short of full-throttle.