G LASGOW produced a storming finish to take the defending Heineken Cup champions to the wire in their final Pool 2 match, but really should have summoned that spine-tingling closing rally much earlier had they wanted to keep their European hopes alive.
The feeling an opportunity had been lost was only heightened by the news Exeter had clinched a shock victory in Cardiff, a result that opened a door for Glasgow to clinch a consolation place in the Amlin Cup had they won.
Warriors played some wonderful rugby at times. They put down a powerful marker with some ferocious defence in the first quarter and they were by far the stronger team in the fourth. They won the try count 1-0 - all of Toulon's points came from Jonny Wilkinson penalties - after captain Chris Fusaro had pounced on the ball behind the Toulon line in the 64th minute. And, as the French side flagged, they looked well capable of kicking on for a draw - or better.
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Toulon, desperate to hold on for the win that has earned them a home draw in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, probably just about deserved their victory, - Glasgow matched them in most regards and bettered them in some - but this is a competition of fine margins, and the brutal reality is Gregor Townsend's side finished last in the pool.
Their defeat - or at least their failure to secure a draw - came down to a couple of errors near the end. The first was made by Richie Vernon, playing his first professional game in the centre since his conversion from the back row. He made a marvellous break into the Toulon half, but then failed to deliver what would have been a scoring pass to either of the players who came steaming up in support.
The second came from replacement fly-half Duncan Weir, who needlessly screwed a grubber kick into touch when the clock was already past the 80-minute mark. Glasgow were also wasteful in the way they gave Toulon, and Wilkinson in particular, too many opportunities within range of the posts. Wilkinson's five penalties were enough to give Toulon their win and Fusaro acknowledged his side should have been more alive to the Englishman's threat.
"It was a gutsy performance but unfortunately we came up a bit short," said Fusaro, whose own performance will surely have nudged him closer to a first cap at the forthcoming Six Nations.
"Our discipline let us down a bit, with giving away penalties in our half. Obviously, we know what Jonny can do with the boot and he punished us."
Townsend echoed his captain's frustrated sentiments, but paid tribute to his players' overall efforts in a game that showed what they really are capable of more than any other in this season's Heineken Cup.
There were few opportunities for Glasgow in the first half, when it was the quality of their defence that was most noteworthy. Toulon had clearly decided a strong start would give them a more comfortable afternoon, but Glasgow were just as clearly of a mind that comfort wasn't on the Scotstoun menu. Time and again Toulon sent their runners rumbling round the fringes, only to be met by a wall of Glasgow tacklers. Indeed, the best piece of action in that first half was a trademark 60-metre break by Stuart Hogg in which he wafted past and round about half the Toulon team.
In reality, Glasgow came nowhere near their opponents' try-line in that period, but then neither did Toulon really threaten to cross the whitewash, the scoring being limited to a couple of Wilkinson penalties to one by Ruaridh Jackson.
Where Toulon had a clear advantage was in the scrum, and they duly harvested a couple of penalties there soon after the break to move 12-3 ahead.
Another a little later appeared to put the game beyond Glasgow's reach, but the Scots summoned pride and energy, got a lucky break when Matt Giteau's clearance was charged behind the line to allow Fusaro to pounce for his try, and then cranked up the heat towards the end.
But it was too little, too late, an expression that could serve as a summary of Glasgow's European campaign as a whole.
Glasgow: S Hogg; S Maitland, S Lamont, A Dunbar, N Matawalu (R Vernon, 67); R Jackson (D Weir, 43), H Pyrgos (C Cuister, 53); RGrant (J Yanuyantawa, 67), P MacArthur (D Hall, 71), M Low (E Kalman, 53), L Nakarawa, T Swinson (T Ryder, 67), J Eddie (T Holmes, 60), C Fusaro (captain), R Wilson.
Toulon: D Armitage; D Mitchell, M Bastareaud, M Giteau, D Smith; J Wilkinson (captain), S Tillous-Borde; A Sheridan (X Chiocco, 59), C Burden (J C Orioli, 72), C Hayman (L Chilachava, 65), B Botha (K Mikautadze, 65), J Suta, J Smith, J van Niekerk (V Bruni, 72), S Armitage.
Referee: JP Doyle (England) Attendance: 6108