Sale boss John Mitchell is hoping to use a gritty performance by his side in their 17-6 defeat by Heineken Cup favourites Toulon as a catalyst for their battle to avoid relegation from the Aviva Premiership
The Sharks are rooted to the foot of the Premiership with just one win from 10 matches, but Mitchell, the club's newly-appointed director of rugby, was encouraged by the way they made star-studded Toulon fight all the way for the points in yesterday's Pool Six game at the Salford City Stadium.
"It was a privilege to play against such a side," Mitchell said. "It's quite exceptional in world rugby to have a club side that has icons from South Africa, Australia and England in Bakkies Botha, Matt Giteau and Jonny Wilkinson.
"They are special days in one's rugby life so I couldn't think of a better side to test the character of the group."
A second defeat to French opposition ahead of next week's re-match on the Cote D'Azure leaves the Sharks with little hope of qualification for the knockout stages, but their priority is the Premiership and Mitchell believes the performance was a major improvement on last week's home defeat by Northampton.
Toulon winger David Smith scored the only try of the match while captain Wilkinson kicked four goals from seven attempts to see off Sale, for whom a recalled Danny Cipriani kicked two penalties.
"After last week one thing we asked of the guys in order to move forward – we need to basically stay in the contest for a lot longer and we managed to do that,'' added Mitchell.
"I thought we fought very well and also showed more maturity than we did last week. I think an example of how much we've grown in a week was the way we defended our goal-line with about 12 minutes to go. It gives you a sign of where we've got to head towards in order to advance in the Premiership.
"The Premiership is not about being the most exciting football team – it's about being a collective team that's prepared to work together and hang in there. It was a very good collective performance. I think we showed it's a good starting point. What we've got to do now is build on that each week."
Toulon assistant coach Olivier Azam admitted the difficult conditions, with constant drizzle blowing across the stadium from the kick-off, forced his side to adopt a more conservative approach.
"We didn't plan to kick the ball as much as we did," said Azam. "But with the rain we had to get to a more forward-orientated game and use Jonny to put the ball into the corner.
"We are very happy with the result, especially away from home. The rain started at the beginning of the game, which was a bit of problem, but I think we adapted well.
"Our defence was very strong. We kept Sale away from our goal-line."
Scorers – Sale: Cipriani 2 pens. Toulon: Smith try; Wilkinson 4 pens.
Sale: Miller, Jennings, Uys Amesbury 69), Leota, Cueto, Cipriani, Cliff, Harrison (Lewis-Roberts 60), Taylor, Buckley (Cobilas 60), Gray, McKenzie (Myall 54), Gaskell, Seymour, Vernon (Powell 51).
Toulon: D. Armitage, Wulf, Bastareaud, Giteau, Smith, Wilkinson, Michalak (Tillous-Borde 69), Sheridan (Chiocci 69), Bruno (Orioli 57), Hayman (Kubriashvili 75), Botha (Kennedy 68), Suta (Shaw 57), Fernandez Lobbe, S. Armitage, Masoe (Gunther 54).
Referee: L Hodges (RFU).