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Champions Cup Spotlight - Bath Rugby Find Their Feet Against the European Champions

11/01/2016 14:30 GMT | Updated 10/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Professional sport can be agonising and I expect that if you ask any neutral that watched yesterday's match at the Stade Felix Mayol they will say that the visitors deserved a draw, at the very least. 

We often hear coaches, and indeed Mike Ford, talk about fine margins and never has that been clearer than in the latter stages of Sunday's mesmerising Pool 5 encounter. The final penalty that Frederik Michalak scored was the defining one however there were others, a third George Ford drop goal just veering wide, an attacking lineout that was disrupted after persistent late Bath pressure and the ball just slipping through the fingers of Chris Cook when he had clear paddock between him and the try line, that said Chris' performance was one of the standouts of the afternoon. 

Ultimately these margins cost Bath a game that they'd done almost enough to win  however it has never been truer to say that they must take the very substantial positives from their performance and 'bottle that edge' as their Director of Rugby stated afterwards.

Earlier in the week I said that Bath rugby must show us their A game if they are to have any chance in this match and after months of looking for it we finally watched a Bath Rugby side playing rugby like the one that we know and admire. 

The team's charge was led by the immense leadership and work rate of Stuart Hooper. Stuart has been on the sidelines injured for the best part of six-weeks however he went the full 80 and did so with fervent intensity and the type of emotional leadership Bath have been lacking. His impact cannot be overstated, while focusing on delivering his own role in the second-row he kept Bath composed and on message in one of Europe's most daunting environments. 

Bath's pack also turned it on when they needed the platform most, their scrummaging output has been sporadic this year however Max Lahiff in particular stepped up when he replaced Nick Auterac in the warm up. It was this platform that provided the basis for George Ford to excel. Needless to say the spotlight has been shining brightly on Ford junior over the past few weeks however in the French sunshine he looked as complete as we've seen him; managing the game on a shoestring, showing his superb rugby brain and teaching Quade Cooper a lesson in the intricacies of playing fly-half. The perfect service from Chris Cook, who bar his slip of the hands late on, had a game that should put him firmly at the top of Bath's scrum-half pecking order. 

"We all know what a good side we are. People are writing that 'the Bath way's been worked out and is too structured', but we really believe in the way we're playing and that we're a decision-making team."

The Premiership team haven't wavered from their belief in their own game plan and their eighty minutes at the Stade Felix Mayol was proof that when they cut out the basic errors that have plagued them continually since October they have the ability to fox teams. 

However to be totally blunt and honest about it their Champions Cup challenge has been hurt slightly by the result. Now Bath must win against Leinster in Dublin and then again Toulon at The Rec to be sure of progression to the knockouts. It is a tough ask, however it is one that is made more achievable by their performance in the South of France.

The challenge now is regroup, refresh after such a physical and emotional battle and press on from Sunday night's benchmark. This match has the potential to be the turning point in Bath Rugby's season however only if they choose it to be and as a collective take from it the confidence and belief that they are back and they mean business both in Europe and in the Aviva Premiership.

RC Toulon: 15 James O'Connor 14 Josua Tuisova 13 Mathieu Bastareaud 12 Ma'a Nonu 11 Bryan Habana 10 Quade Cooper 9 Eric Escande 1 Florian Fresia 2 Guilhem Guirado 3 Levan Chilachava 4 Jocelino Suta 5 Konstantine Mikautadze 6 Juan Smith 7 Juan Fernandez Lobbe 8 Duane Vermeulen Replacements: 16 Anthony Etrillard 17 Xavier Chiocci 18 Matt Stevens 19 Steffon Armitage 20 Frederic Michalak 21 Maxime Mermoz 22 Sebastien Tillous-Borde 23 Thibault Lassale

Bath Rugby: 15 Anthony Watson 14 Semesa Rokoduguni 13 Jonathan Joseph 12 Kyle Eastmond 11 Matt Banahan 10 George Ford 9 Chris Cook 1 Max Lahiff 2 Rob Webber 3 David Wilson 4 Stuart Hooper (C) 5 Dominic Day 6 Matt Garvey 7 Francois Louw 8 Leroy Houston Replacements: 16 Ross Batty 17 Nathan Catt 18 Henry Thomas 19 Charlie Ewels 20 David Denton 21 Jonathan Evans 22 Rhys Priestland 23 Tom Homer