Heartbreak for Ulster amid thrilling contest as Toulouse set up Munster showdown
Ulster 23 (49)
Toulouse 30 (50)
Adam McKendry reports from Kingspan Stadium
IF THERE WERE ever an argument that two-legged ties should be the norm in European rugby then this would be presented as Exhibit A. Two teams who left everything on the pitch in search of a place in quarter-final in a thrilling 160- minute clash from start to finish.
Unfortunately for Ulster, that’s no consolation that their European dream is over.
As has happened so many times, it was Antoine Dupont who proved the winner of the game for reigning European champions Toulouse at the Kingspan Stadium, with the scrum-half going over with five minutes remaining for the kick-off. fatal in a 30-23 win that handed them a 50-49 win over Ulster at 14.
Dan McFarland’s side had Juan Cruz Mallia’s red card to thank for their six-point lead going into Saturday’s second leg and ultimately it was Tom O’Toole’s shoulder heading Anthony Jelonch that saw them through. left a man short in the dying phases when they needed one more defensive set to cross the line.
It looked like a brace from Ethan McIlroy and 13 points from John Cooney’s boot was enough, with Toulouse responding with tries from Thomas Ramos – who was also steady with the boot – and Romain Ntamack, and it looked like it would be an atmosphere of full-time party to a packed house in Belfast.
But when it’s the European Cup and the opposition is Toulouse, you’re never sure to party. With five minutes left, Dupont slipped away, Ramos converted for the seven-point victory for Ugo Mola’s side needed to set up a round of 16 draw against Munster, and Ulster was devastated.
A round of 16 tie for the ages, a tie we may never see repeated if the global system is scrapped next season. But little consolation for a devastated Ulster side.
Indeed, if their start to the Stadium de Toulouse had been poor, Ulster’s start to Belfast was not much better as Ramos gave Toulouse the lead with a penalty almost from the kick-off and then Robert Baloucoune saw yellow for taking Jelonch. in the air as soon as it restarts.
But just four minutes later their shorthandedness was overturned when Dimitri Delibes joined Baloucoune in the sin-bin for an edge tackle, and shortly after the hosts struck for the first try of the game.
It was a fine kick from the corner from Mike Lowry that put Toulouse under pressure and saw Dupont forward under pressure, and when the ball was swept aside for James Hume the cross managed to free his hands at the contact to recover the ball. at McIlroy and the winger ran through Matthis Lebel in trouble and over for the score.
Cooney converted, and he and Ramos then traded penalties before the French side netted one of their scintillating tries from nothing.
He came out of a fumble from Dupont back, but just when it looked like there was nothing, Ntamack dipped the shoulder and raced through space into the defensive line and into the clean air , and he had Dupont on his shoulder to place Ramos under the posts for an outstanding mark.
If this was Toulouse at their best, then Ntamack’s try was probably best described as opportunistic. Seizing a pass from Cooney to Stuart McCloskey just outside his own 22, the French fly-half held on to complete the interception and there was no one in the Ulster squad able to come back in time for prevent him from crossing.
With the crowd silenced, if there was ever a time Toulouse was going to run away with the tie, it was now. But, instead, Ulster would have the advantage at the break and it was McIlroy again who went over the top, and this one was as good a finish as you could hope for.
With penalty advantage coming from a typically dominant Ulster maul, fly-half Billy Burns’ cross kick was slightly overcooked, but the winger did superbly corral it over his head and subdue it before dancing on the touchline and providing the finish to have them three points clear at the break.
Compared to the first half, the second took a while to kick in, although it would be Ulster first on the board as Cooney leveled the scores on the night and restored their six-point lead in the draw with a penalty in the 52nd minute.
Ramos imposed his third penalty of the night to prepare for the stand finish, although he came between two TMO dismissals for foul play from Ulster, one which went unpunished and one which did.
There was some disbelief when Lowry wasn’t disciplined even with a penalty for knocking Ramos out in the air, not too dissimilar to the Mallia incident a week ago, but there was no argument. when O’Toole’s shoulder connected to Jelonch’s face and he was given an early bath with 15 minutes remaining, and he could have been joined by Rob Herring, who appeared to do the same with the tackle from followed but went unpunished.
It set up a dramatic finish and, although Ulster held out valiantly for 10 of those 15 minutes, the barrage cracked with each brutal push from Toulouse and eventually burst.
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Ntamack quickly unleashed a clearing kick from Cooney, a few quick hands sent Jelonch just short of the line and as the Ulster defense – downing two other players through injury – struggled to recover in position, Dupont spotted the gap and squirmed. to send the fans outside in a frenzy.
Ramos was yet to add the conversion but, just below the posts, it was never in doubt. Toulouse are marching on to a meeting with Munster early next month in the quarter-finals, Ulster left to regret what might have been.
Try: McIlroy (2)
The inconvenients: Coney (2)
Pens: Coney (3)
Try: Ramos, Ntamack, Dupont
The inconvenients: Ramos (3)
Pens: Ramos (3)
(15-9) Mike Lowry; Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy; Billy Burns (Rob Lyttle 58), John Cooney; (1-8) Andrew Warwick (Eric O’Sullivan 63), Rob Herring, Marty Moore (Tom O’Toole 63); Alan O’Connor (Kieran Treadwell 53), Iain Henderson; Marcus Rea (Jordi Murphy 54), Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.
Unused subtitles: Brad Roberts, Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall.
Yellow card: Robert Baloucoune (3′)
Red card: Tom O’Toole (65′)
(15-9) Thomas Ramos; Dimitri Delibes, Tim Nanai-Williams (Baptiste Germain 73), Pita Ahki, Matthis Lebel (Lucas Tauzin 12); Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; (1-8) Rodrigue Neti (David Ainu’u 63), Peato Mauvaka, Charlie Faumuina (Dorian Aldegheri 51); Rory Arnold (Antoine Miquel 64), Richie Arnold (Emmanuel Meafou 54); Rynhardt Elstadt, Anthony Jelonch, Selevasio Tolofua (Thibaud Flament 54).
Unused subtitle: Guillaume Cramont.
Yellow card: Dimitri Delibes (6′)
Arbitrator: Matthew Carley (England)