Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond was able to draw plenty of plusses from his side's 27-6 defeat by Montpellier in their penultimate Heineken Cup Pool Six match at Barton.
With their quarter-final hopes sunk in December by back-to-back defeats by Toulon, Diamond opted to give run-outs to several fringe players and, as expected, they proved no match for their star-studded visitors.
"I thought after the first scrum of the game we were in for a really hard night but they showed a lot of character," Diamond said. "There were a lot of positives moving forward into the league. It could have been a lot worse."
The Sharks pack was under pressure throughout, conceding a penalty from the game's first scrum, but the home side trailed only 12-6 at half-time after Danny Cipriani kicked two penalties.
Diamond made no apology for fielding a weakened side as he kept one eye on their Aviva Premiership relegation battle and he was pleased with the debut of 20-year-old number eight Josh Beaumont, who was watched by his father Bill, the former England captain, and 19-year-old centre Mark Jennings.
"We have to look at what's important to us and the Aviva is our lifeblood and bread and butter," Diamond added. "We've got a lot out of today. The young centre Mark Jennings and Josh Beaumont did well.
"A lot of people put their hands up and showed what character we've got in the team. A guy who takes a lot of the press generally who played well tonight was Danny Cipriani. If he sticks to his kicking game for us he will be great. We played well in parts but overall their dominance showed and they deserved the score."
Montpellier, flying high in the French League, made it four successive wins to keep alive their qualification hopes, much to the delight of coach Fabien Galthie.
A penalty try two minutes from the end, to add to earlier touchdowns from Yohann Artru, man of the match Johnnie Beattie and Pierre Berard, enabled the visitors to clinch a crucial bonus point which takes them level with Toulon, who play Cardiff on Saturday before hosting their French rivals at Stade Yves du Manoir in their final match next Saturday.
Galthie said: "Victory and the bonus point is a good result for us. We now need to beat Toulon, simple as that. We are going to try."