Ulster fell to their first home defeat in over two years as Toulouse ground out a bonus point win at Ravenhill.
Two tries from Rob Herring and a sublime back line effort culminating in an Ian Madigan try weren’t enough as Ulster only came away with one match point.
Like the recent quarter final, Cheslin Kolbe and Antoine Dupont stole the show contributing three of their team’s four tries with Rory Arnold the other scorer.
Ulster (12) 22
TRY: Rob Herring (2), Ian Madigan
CON: John Cooney (2)
PEN: John Cooney
Toulouse (14) 29
TRY: Cheslin Kolbe (2), Antoine Dupont, Rory Arnold
CON: Thomas Ramos (3)
PEN: Thomas Ramos
Ulster made a bright start to the game with Herring rumbling over for the opening score after 14 minutes before a dummy line from James Hume created space on the outside for Matt Faddes with Ian Madigan sliding in at the corner for his first try in an Ulster shirt. A fantastic back line set play with shades of Cooneys effort against Harlequins last season.
Dan McFarland spoke midweek about limiting the number of one on one opportunities Springbok Kolbe gets with Ulster defenders. On the whole I thought he was well marshalled, but two opportunities resulted in two tries. Sofiane Guitoune got his arms free to offload to the little winger whose chip and chase was grounded. Dupont gave Toulouse the lead on the half time whistle.
Rory Arnold grabbed Toulouse’s third try after the break before Herring retook the lead with another maul try. Maxime Medard was sent to the sin bin, but Ulster were not able to make the most of the man advantage while Kolbe took his second chance of the game with a wicked step, sealing Ulster’s fate to an opening defeat in Europe for the first time since the 2016-17 campaign.
Ulster: Michael Lowry, Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Ian Madigan, John Cooney, Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter, Sean Reidy, Matthew Rea, Marcell Coetzee. Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, David O’Connor, Greg Jones, Alby Mathewson, Stewart Moore, Craig Gilroy.
Toulouse: Maxime Medard, Matthis Lebel, Sofiane Guitoune, Romain Ntamack, Cheslin Kolbe, Thomas Ramos, Antoine Dupont, Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Charlie Faumuina, Rory Arnold, Joe Tekori, Rynhardt Elstadt, Alban Placines, Selevasio Tolofua. Replacements: Guillaume Marchand, Rodrigue Neti, David Ainu’u, Emmanuel Meafou, Louis Madaule, Yannick Youyoutte, Pita Ahki, Alexis Bales
Where now for Ulster?
Not many sides come to Ravenhill and win so this is a testament to the strength of the French side. Losing your opening Champions Cup match at home is not ideal in the regular format nevermind this season’s condensed schedule which has Ulster firmly on the back foot.
I thought Ulster played well, matching their visitors for the majority of the game and it was a good indication of where Ulster are in Europe; they’re a decent side and not far off the level of the top sides with everyone fit.
Dan McFarland was without Iain Henderson, Jordi Murphy, Will Addison and Billy Burns who all come in to strengthen this side, but even without them Ulster had chances to win on Friday night. A lost lineout on the 5m line while playing with a man advantage was costly as that was Ulster’s last attack of the night.
Northampton’s home defeat to Bordeaux Begles saw Chris Boyd mention in the post match interview that Europe was no longer a priority and that he would be sending a young side to take on Leinster. I don’t think Ulster should be throwing in the towel yet, especially as they’ve two winnable games against Gloucester coming up.
Only two matches in Pool B have been played so far, so we’ll get a better understanding of where Ulster sit at the end of today.