Scoreline didn't reflect game - Sale boss Steve Diamond after defeat at Toulon
Sale boss Steve Diamond says his side can take plenty of pride from their performance after pushing star-studded Toulon hard at Stade Felix Mayol before finally running out of steam.
The Sharks were well in contention until three-time European champions Toulon capitalised on the visitors being reduced to 14 men late on by scoring two tries in the final four minutes to claim a 27-12 victory.
The result saw Sale crash to a 16th successive defeat in the Champions Cup and 10th in a row in all games this season, but director of rugby Diamond was far from disheartened.
He said: " The scoreline didn't reflect the game. The first 60-65 minutes it was a very good game, but their bench made the difference in the end.
"Matt Giteau came on and made a big difference for them, but there was a lot of pride in our performance. We had 21 English-qualified players in our matchday squad and we are proud of what we are doing at the club.
"A lot of young lads got some exposure to Champions Cup rugby, but what we need now is stability in the Premiership.
"It takes time to be competitive at this level and we need to make sure that the next time we are in the Champions Cup we perform."
While Sale are bidding farewell to the competition, Toulon still have a chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.
However, they have plenty of work to do despite Sunday's bonus-point win as they take on already-qualified holders Saracens at Allianz Park in a mouthwatering showdown next weekend.
French centre Mathieu Bastareaud admits his side will have to improve on their showing against Sale if they are to keep their hopes alive.
He said: " We're going to go at Saracens with a lot of enthusiasm. But firstly we've got to put the Sale game behind us and then we can start thinking about what is going to be a very big game at Allianz Park.
"We would have loved not to have had the suspense at the finish. We got the victory in the end, but it was a very tough one against a very good team that had nothing to lose."
Ma'a Nonu's early try gave Toulon the lead but Sale quickly hit back through a converted Sam James score to take a 7-5 lead at the interval.
Toulon reclaimed their advantage through Bryan Habana's try just before the hour and, although Sale once again responded immediately to score their second try through Rob Webber, it was the French side who finished the stronger following Kieran Longbottom's late sin-binning as Jonathan Pelissie and Josua Tuisova both touched down .
Bastareaud added: "We were concentrating too much on the bonus point too soon in the game, rather than simply focusing on the win. We played very poorly, especially in the first half.
"We made too many mistakes, which is a problem we've had for a few weeks now. We have to be more disciplined and we have to make better use of our possession if we want to stay in this competition - we kicked too often and we weren't good at the breakdown."