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Glasgow 8 Toulon 15: Retreat from Europe could still lead Scottish side to success on domestic front

Glasgow Warriors spoiled one European party with a spectacular late victory over Northampton a year ago and, as they surged forward in the closing stages on Saturday, it looked as if they were going to do something very similar to Toulon.

Toulon's Sebastien Tillous-Borde, second left, Jonny Wilkinson and Jocelino Suta, right, halt Ryan Wilson, centre. Picture: SNS/SRU
Toulon's Sebastien Tillous-Borde, second left, Jonny Wilkinson and Jocelino Suta, right, halt Ryan Wilson, centre. Picture: SNS/SRU

Where Warriors had closed out with a wonder try by Peter Horne against the English side last year, the final act of this contest was far more feeble and forgettable. After an impressive period of phase play, the ball came back to Duncan Weir, the replacement fly-half, who trickled a weak grubber kick into touch. And that, as they say, was that.

In truth, Glasgow's ambitions of retaining an interest in Europe had hung by a very slender thread even before the start. Their prospects of winning a place in the Amlin Cup depended upon a decent win in this game and a raft of other results going their way. Ironically, some of those other results did turn out as they would have wanted but, when it came to taking care of their own business, the Scottish side came up short.

The story of their season? Not quite, for Glasgow's Heineken Cup report card is not all grim reading. They revealed an impressively hard-nosed and pragmatic side to their character in their two wins against Exeter and were certainly not overawed in their two defeats by Toulon. Where they did go badly wrong was in their two December losses to Cardiff Blues, defeats which revealed a soft underbelly and hinted at deeper discontent in Gregor Townsend's squad at the time.

At least there was no hint of that in this game. Glasgow started and finished powerfully, showing no undue deference to the reigning champions of Europe, and had they showed a little more self-discipline through the middle third of the contest then Warriors might just have pulled off a famous win.

Mixed feelings, then, for coach Townsend. Not many sides rattle Toulon as Glasgow did in the final few minutes of this match - when, remember, the French side were desperate to hold out for the win that would ensure a home tie at the quarter-final stage. However, at the finish Townsend was reflecting on a game and a season in which too many chances had not been taken.

"The two games against Exeter were really good and I was really proud of the players' efforts against Toulon," said Townsend of Glasgow's ill-fated European campaign. "We showed really good attacking intent in the first half here, put them under pressure defensively, and had a lot of possession. Yes, we maybe let things slip with our discipline and not taking opportunities in the third quarter but it was a huge effort to come back in the end.

"The frustrating thing for us is that we showed that in those four games. But in the first Cardiff game we didn't make the most of our possession down there, losing ball in their 22 and the penalty count cost us that day, then here not making the most of our possession when we were on the line.

"So that's the frustrating thing but we've learned a lot. We've learned what we can do against these teams and what we need to do to beat them."

Learning lessons is one thing, putting that knowledge into practice quite another. As Glasgow's stand-in captain Chris Fusaro acknowledged, slipping out of Europe could turn out to be "a blessing in disguise" if it allows the side to focus fully on a RaboDirect PRO12 campaign in which silverware is still well within their reach.

Fusaro's own contribution was immense. This has been a difficult season for the flanker, but he showed his worth in lofty company on Saturday and his performance can only have enhanced his prospect of the first international cap that has been so frustratingly elusive until now.

It was Fusaro who claimed the only try of the game when he pounced on a charged-down Matt Giteau kick in the 64th minute. Glasgow might have had another soon afterwards when Richie Vernon, who was making his first appearance at this level in the centre, made a scalding break, but the former Test No.8 did not spot Stuart Hogg in support and lost possession.

For Toulon, five penalties by Jonny Wilkinson - his pre-kick preparations seem to become more laboured every year - were enough to clinch the win. Three of those opportunities were won in the scrum, but it would be an exaggeration to say that Glasgow took the hammering in that part of the game that had been predicted beforehand.

"Normally, I pick out a couple of guys after the game to highlight their effort and the way they have taken the game to the opposition," said Townsend. "But I could pick all 15 from this one, especially the pack. The way they carried, fought back from a tricky period in the scrum and that effort at the end made these excellent Toulon players look tired."

And so they did. But those poor, exhausted Toulon players at least had the consolation of knowing they had finished top of their group at the end. Glasgow's uncomfortable lot is that they finished rock bottom.

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