Toulon returned to the top of Pool 2 in the Heineken Cup as they shook off a spirited Exeter Chiefs side 32-20 at Stade Félix Mayol on Saturday.
Despite claiming the try bonus-point win, Toulon were given a real test by the Chiefs, who will take home a lot of confidence from their showing.
Only in the closing stages would the French give themselves a comfortable lead but even then Exeter ended strongly as they crossed late on.
Toulon, missing Bakkies Botha, Andrew Sheridan and Craig Burden for this clash - Jonny Wilkinson was benched - opened the scoring in the eleventh minute when a lovely inside ball from Matt Giteau to Alexis Palisson saw possession swiftly moved to the left where wing David Smith strolled over.
Exeter though were proving more than a match for their big-spending opponents and in fact took the lead seven minutes later as Tom James' good work on the left touchline saw him bounce off Palisson before sending the ball inside to openside flanker Don Armand who ran in for a converted try.
That would be wing Palisson's last act too as he came off clutching his shoulder to be replaced by former England international Delon Armitage.
What was impressive from the Chiefs was their ability to spot weak links in defence as Jack Nowell and Tom Arscott were picking out Carl Hayman and Ali Williams and promptly scooting around them. Fortunately for the home side, no more damage was done.
Then came a controversial moment as TMO, Dermot Moloney, adjudged Matt Giteau's scoring pass to winger Smith as being fine to award. The replays showed, however, the Australian's hands went in the direction as the ball, forwards. Exeter's fans were amazed.
Giteau would make it 15-7 after the half-hour mark but Junior World Championship winner Slade would chalk that off for the spirited Chiefs, making it 15-10 going into half-time.
The third quarter of the contest was another 20 minutes of Toulon failing to demonstrate champion-like qualities as Exeter continued to hang in there, with the score 18-13 for a long period. Head coach Rob Baxter will no doubt have been impressed with his back-three.
However, the class in the hosts' squad would show in the end as replacement prop Xavier Chiocci barged over in the 64th minute before fellow substitute Wilkinson slipped over under the uprights for the bonus-point try that sent the home supporters delirious.
Exeter would have the last say though when their own replacement, Ben White, crossed after Arscott was denied one by good defensive work from Drew Mitchell over the try-line.
Tries: D Smith 2, Chiocci, Wilkinson
Con: Giteau 3
Pen: Giteau 2
Tries: Armand, White
Con: Slade, Sweeney
Pen: Slade 2
Toulon: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Alexis Palisson, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 David Smith, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Jocelino Suta, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Jean-Charles Orioli, 1 Florian Fresia.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Noirot, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Virgile Bruni, 20 Delon Armitage, 21 Jonny Wilkinson, 22 Frédéric Michalak, 23 Konstantin Mikautadze.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Phil Dollman, 11 Tom James, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Dave Ewers, 7 Don Armand, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 James Hanks, 4 Dean Mumm (capt), 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Chris Whitehead, 17 Brett Sturgess, 18 Alex Brown, 19 Damian Welch, 20 Ben White, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Sam Hill.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson, Michael Black (both Ireland)
TMO: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)