A fortnight ago, Warriors were daring to believe that they had what it takes to compete for silverware in two competitions – but they have ended the season empty handed after being bullied out of this European Challenge Cup final at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin by a well-drilled and physically stronger Toulon outfit, who had a score to settle after falling at the last hurdle on four previous occasions in the competition.

Having also lost to Munster in the play-off quarter-finals of the URC a fortnight ago, it is not exactly a case of going back to the drawing board for Franco Smith’s team, but it is clear now that when push comes to shove, they are still not ready to compete with the best in Europe in big one-off games.

They shouldn’t be too despondent, however, considering where they have come from. Smith inherited a rabble at the start of this season, who had been humiliated 76-14 to Leinster in the final match of the 2021-22 campaign, so the general trajectory since the South African’s arrival in the west of Scotland last August has definitely been upwards – and there is no reason to doubt that they can carry on in that direction.

Certainly, there is enough international quality in their squad to provide hope that better days lie ahead, and painful experiences like this sometimes have to be endured before you reach the promised land.

Toulon suffered an early set-back when they lost their highly experienced Welsh stand-off Dan Biggar to a concussion after a collision with Jamie Bhatti’s shoulder, but they didn’t let that dent their early momentum, and in the very next play they raced into a 7-0 lead when Baptiste Serin spotted a gap in Warriors’ backfield.

The livewire scrum-half prodded a grubber past the first line of defence then gathered himself and darted home. Ollie Smith thought he had managed to roll the Frenchman onto his back to stop the ball being grounded but referee Wayne Barnes was having none of it. Serin slotted the conversion for good measure.

Warriors just couldn’t find a way into the game, and another long period of Toulon pressure eventually paid off when scrappy Glasgow line-out ball created an opportunity for the great Sergio Parisse to blast his way under the posts, with Serin again adding the conversion.

With 19 minutes played, Warriors finally engineered an attacking opportunity when Sebastian Cancelliere found himself in space on the right. The Argentinean winger sent a speculative kick back in field which George Horne managed to hack ahead but the scrum-half then collided with Toulon full-back Cheslin Kolbe, and Gabin Villiere was able to get back to snuff out the danger.

Warriors were under serious pressure at both scrum and line-out time, and it was another touchline malfunction which led to Toulon’s third try with just 24 minutes played. This time an overthrow was gathered by Charles Ollivion, prompting a sweeping attack from which Waisea Vuidravuwalu got to within a few yards from the line, and Serin then picked up and scuttled over for his second try of the night.

Glasgow had a chance to get off the mark when they were awarded an offside penalty in front of the posts, but they opted to kick to the corner – recognising that they weren’t going to salvage this desperate situation by scoring in multiples of three points. They needed to score in multiples of seven, but rather predictably they lost the ball at a ruck a few phases later and remained rooted to zero.

Another penalty kicked to the corner with five minutes left in the half came to nothing when Zander Fagerson fumbled the ball forward as he attempted to pick up from the base just a few yards from the line.

Twice attacks floundered in midfield when they usually well synchronised Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu failed to connect.

Warriors did manage to catch Toulon napping at a scrum on their own 22 in the last minute of the half, but they couldn’t make anything of it.

The third quarter followed a similar pattern to the first half. Benoit Paillaugue stroked home a 51st minute penalty to make it 24-0, and Warriors’ miserable evening almost descended into farce when replacement hooker Johnny Matthews attempted a long early line-out throw five yards from his own line which was picked off by Ollivion who dived over the line unchallenged.

Fortunately, referee Wayne Barnes, after consultation with his TMO ruled that the French flanker had been offside.

Warriors finally gave their demoralised travelling supporters something to cheer when they worked a neat move coming back down the short-side of a line-out, with Ali Price feeding skipper Kyle Steyn, who stepped inside last man Jiuta Naqoli Wainigolo and darted home.

But any thought of an unlikely comeback were quickly put to bed a few minutes later when Toulon attacked off first-phase scrum ball, and Wainigolo came in off his wing to work a scissors with Kolbe then powered through three Warriors tackles on his way to the line.

Nayacalevu was the next try-scorer for Toulon, but Warriors dug deep and made sure the final score-line was not a complete humiliation with late consolation tries from Cancelliere and Steyn before Ihaia West scooted over to finish off the scoring for the worthy winners.

n AYRSHIRE Bulls are through to Friday’s Super Series Sprint final after beating Watsonians 59-24 last night in the final round of the regular season. The Bulls will now be at home to the winners of this afternoon’s game between Heriot’s or Stirling Wolves – unless that match ends in a low-scoring draw, in which case Watsonians will progress to the final as mini-league runners-up.