Bath Rugby produced their best performance of the season at the Stade Mayol this afternoon, only to lose the Champions Cup tie 12-9 following a late Frederic Michalak penalty.
Fly-half George Ford and Toulon scrum-half Eric Escande traded penalties in the opening quarter of an hour to level an edgy but lively start to this much-anticipated match.
Ford produced some outstanding tactical kicks in the first half, not to mention some dazzling breaks, whilst his teammates showed equal endeavour in putting on an entertaining but purposeful performance.
Approaching the half-hour, Ford and wing Matt Banahan jolted the Bath attack to life with some excellent linking play in the middle of the field. Bolstered by the support of fullback Anthony Watson and centre Kyle Eastmond, it moved the action into Toulon's 22, but with progress slow, scrum-half Chris Cook passed to Ford in the pocket for a dead-straight drop goal. 3-6.
Escande, who had just missed with a penalty from the right-hand channel, made amends with his second attempt before half time to level things once again.
Half time: Toulon 6-6 Bath Rugby
Thanks to a firm platform from Bath's abrasive forwards, it was another Ford drop goal - and another neat delivery from Chris Cook - that gave Bath the lead once again as the second half got underway.
Bath were then penalised at the scrum which, for the third time in the match, allowed Escande level the score with the boot. 9-9.
Time and again in the second half Bath found reserves of energy that allowed them to thwart several potential Toulon tries when a score looked a sure thing.
Toulon made their one real second-half opportunity count when, with five minutes left in the match, replacement Frederic Michalak stroked over the penalty which gave his side the lead for the first time in the match.
It ultimately proved the definitive moment of the game for Toulon as Bath tried valiantly - but vainly - to get themselves into a match-drawing position with only a minute or so left in the match.
Bath leave the Cote d'Azur with their heads held high, in the knowledge that the ability to replicate such performances will take them far this season.
Full time: Toulon 12-9 Bath Rugby
European Rugby Champions Cup
10 January 2016
Referee: George Clancy
Referee: Nigel Owens
Half Time score: 6-6
- Penalties: Escande (15, 34, 45), Michalak (75)
- Penalties: Ford (2)
- Drop goals: Ford (27, 41)