Ulster are flying after thriller in Toulouse
Toulouse 23 Ulster 25
Ulster secured just their third win on French soil yesterday with a battling performance against four-time European champions Toulouse to keep their Champions Cup hopes alive and well.
Having dismantled the Top 14 outfit in Belfast a week prior, the nine points taken from the double-header has the province well placed to make a run at booking a quarter-final spot with the three remaining games in Pool 1 seeing them travel to Saracens in between two contests with struggling Oyonnax.
For the second week in succession both Luke Marshall and Andrew Trimble crossed for tries, Ruan Pienaar having grabbed the first, and Les Kiss’s men held on for victory despite a last-minute effort from Louis Picamoles.
After last weekend’s embarrassment, Ugo Mola called for a massive improvement from his side and, while Toulouse were better than during their Kingspan humbling, the hosts led for a mere three minutes of the contest and Ulster’s defensive organisation and incisive backline play ensured that the historic victory was more than deserved.
There were just three minutes gone when Ulster took the lead through the boot of Paddy Jackson. Gregory Lamboley infringed at the breakdown and the visiting fly-half was assured off the tee. Toulouse had more of the ball in the opening stages, with a series of breakdown penalties robbing them of momentum, and a rare early Ulster visit to the opposing 22 ended the afternoon of Craig Gilroy after just 12 minutes.
Ulster moved the ball from right to left in an attempt to develop a two-on-one on the outside but Franco van der Merwe’s pass did Gilroy no favours and the wing was unceremoniously dumped into touch on his head with Rory Scholes taking his place.
Toulouse threatened when a Marshall high tackle on his opposite number Gael Fickou brought a penalty and a lineout in the corner but Robbie Diack did exceptionally well to disrupt the maul.
Eight minutes before the half, Ulster displayed real patience when efforts to barge their way over off a lineout were repelled and, with Pienaar gathering at the base of the ruck, Toulouse neglected to guard the fringes and the Springbok scrum-half gratefully stretched across the line.
Jackson converted but the out-half was soon to be involved in the half’s most controversial moment.
As Toulouse threatened inside the Ulster 22, the number 10 reached for the ball and knocked on.
A penalty and card seemed inevitable until Florian Fritz tackled Jackson well after the whistle had gone.
Ulster’s lead was cut to seven and they would negotiate the five minutes either side of the turn a man light.
Even with 14, they ran the ball from deep inside their own territory just before half-time for what would have been a memorable score by Rory Scholes only for the try to be correctly chalked off for a forward pass.
Ulster almost survived the sin-binning without further concession but with the second half not long under way, Diack came in at the side and Bezy was again successful off the tee to cut the lead to just four.
When the restart sailed out on the full, the Ulster scrum impressed and Pienaar pressured Imanol Harinordoquy into a knock-on at the base.
It would prove a crucial moment as from the resulting scrum Marshall’s delightful flat pass set midfield partner Stuart McCloskey racing through a hole.
While the rampaging centre was stopped short, Ulster recycled well with Van der Merwe putting Trimble away in the corner where the
wing provided the necessary strong finish.
The score roused Toulouse for what seemed to be the first time over the two games and a 10-point burst in five minutes gave them their first lead.
Gael Fickou’s score was converted by Bezy and when Andrew Warwick gave away an unnecessary penalty, the scrum-half put his side up 16-15.
A nervy final quarter ensued, with Kiss’s defensive systems holding up to a more rigorous examination, but when Marshall scored with five minutes remaining the win looked to be all but secured.
There was still time for Toulouse to earn the consolation of a losing bonus point when Louis Picamoles, who is bound for Northampton next season, to rumble over.
ULSTER - L Ludik; A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey, C Gilroy (R Scholes 12); P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshall 77); K McCall (Warwick 75), R Best (c), W Herbst (Lutton 44); A O’Connor (Stevenson 78), F van der Merwe; R Diack, S Reidy (Williams 43), R Wilson (Herring 63).
TOULOUSE - A Palisson; S Kunatani, G Fickou (McAllister 52), F Fritz, T Matanavou (Poitrenaud 60); J-M Doussain, S Bezy (Mele 75); C Baille, J Marchand (Tolofua 52), C Johnston (Muller 40), G Lamboley, Y Maestri, Y Camara, T Dusautoir (Picamoles 60), I Harinordoquy (Tekori 52).