Ulster see off 14-man Toulouse
MATCH REPORT: Wing Rob Baloucoune scored a hat-trick of tries as Ulster Rugby won 26-20 at 14-man Stade Toulousain in the Champions Cup Round of 16 first leg on Saturday.
The Irish province will take their lead into the second leg at Kingspan Stadium next week, but Toulouse, who saw wing Juan Cruz Mallía sent off early on, are well in the contest thanks to scores from Emmanuel Meafou and Romain Ntamack.
Toulouse looked sharp from the outset and crossed for a try with six minutes played, lock Emmanuel Meafou smashing over from close range after some slick handling. Fullback Thomas Ramos added the extras.
But the reigning champions would suffer a major setback on 11 minutes as wing Cruz Mallía was shown a red card for taking out Ulster counterpart Ben Moxham in the air.
Ulster immediately sensed blood and mounted an assault on the Toulouse line, eventually sending Baloucoune over in corner, scrum-half John Cooney’s conversion levelling the scores.
But the TOP 14 outfit were able to stifle Ulster, and even threatened their opponents’ line on a couple of occasions, Ramos kicking a penalty on 17 minutes to put them back in front.
And the hosts continued to frustrate Ulster for the remainder of the half, disrupting lineout ball and repelling a series of attacks close to their line, with a second Ramos penalty on 40 minutes seeing them head into the break with a six-point lead.
Ulster made an excellent start to the second half as centre Stuart McCloskey broke clear and teed up Baloucoune, who raced over for his second try of the afternoon. They would still trail, however, as Cooney’s conversion attempt drifted wide.
And Toulouse almost extended their advantage as an outrageous move featuring a series of offloads that saw them dot down, only for a TMO review to spot a knock-on at a breakdown.
But it would be Ulster who would get over for the game’s next try – they pounded away at the Toulouse defence for an extended period before replacement prop Andy Warwick reached out to dot down, Cooney adding the extras to build a six-point lead.
Toulouse threatened to respond as their offloading game caused problems, but Baloucoune picked off a floated pass and ran the length of the field to score his hat-trick try on 67 minutes, with Cooney once again converting.
Toulouse would finish with a flourish, however, producing more scintillating running rugby to send fly-half Ntamack over with seconds left on the clock, with Ramos’ conversion reducing the arrears to six points heading into next week’s game.
Tries: Meafou, Ntamack
Cons: Ramos 2
Tries: Baloucoune 3, Warwick
Cons: Cooney 3
Red card: Mallia (Toulouse, 10)
Toulouse: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Juan Cruz Mallía, 13 Zack Holmes, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Matthis Lebel, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain), 8 Francois Cros, 7 Thibaud Flament, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Emmanuel Meafou, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 1 Rodrigue Neti
Replacements: 16 Guillaume Cramont, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Anthony Jelonch, 21 Alban Placines, 22 Martin Page Relo, 23 Sofiane Guitoune
Ulster: 15 Mike Lowry, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Ben Moxham, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Marcus Rea, 5 Iain Henderson (c), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan
Replacements: 16 Brad Roberts, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Luke Marshall, 23 Rob Lyttle
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Christophe Ridley (England) & Anthony Woodthorpe (England)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)