Two tries in the final four minutes secured Toulon a 27-12 triumph over Sale and gave the French side a shot at overtaking reigning champions Saracens in Pool Three of the Champions Cup.
The Sharks had been close to doing Aviva Premiership rivals Saracens a major favour as they led at half-time and were within touching distance for much of the second half. But a yellow card to Kieran Longbottom in the 76th minute for a dangerous tackle proved crucial.
No sooner had he gone off the field than replacement scrum-half Jonathan Pelissie scampered over in the right corner, and then Toulon fashioned a bonus-point score from deep in their 22 - started and finished by by Josua Tuisova in almost the same spot at which Pelissie touched down - with the final move of the match.
The result lifted the three-time champions onto 15 points in the group - five behind Sarries, who had been held to a draw by the Scarlets earlier in the day - and gave them an outside chance of winning the pool by outscoring next weekend's opponents Saracens 5-0 on match points and winning the head-to-head equation.
For Sale, the sting in the tail meant they crashed to a 16th straight defeat in the tournament and a 10th in a row in all games this season.
Sale were out of the running before the game started, having lost all four pool matches before arriving at Stade Felix Mayol. But they played without fear and led for long periods in a display which was in huge contrast to their last visit to Toulon, when they conceded nine tries in a record 62-point defeat.
The hosts got off to a flying start with Ma'a Nonu's first Champions Cup try coming in only the third minute, but Leigh Halfpenny could not add the extras and that gave the Sharks the chance to bite back with a thrilling kick-and-chase try from Sam James on 13 minutes.
The fly-half chipped over the first line of defence on halfway, beat three Toulon players by regathering the wicked bounce and then raced to the posts for a try which acting captain Will Addison converted.
Addison had the chance to increase the lead with a penalty, but was wide, yet the underdogs were still 7-5 ahead at the break - and good value for their lead.
Toulon picked up the pace at the start of the second half, and Halfpenny put them ahead with a 44th-minute penalty.
Bryan Habana then increased the lead with a try on the hour and Halfpenny's conversion made it 15-7. The home fans hoped that would be the catalyst for an avalanche of tries, but instead Sale hit back with a perfect driving lineout try from hooker Rob Webber to cut the gap to three points.
Then came the late, face-saving rally from Toulon that kept them in the hunt for a quarter-final place.
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