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Toulouse's thrilling start to season a concern for travelling Ulster

The Top 14 side are targetting a record-setting fifth Heineken Champions Cup crown.

TOULOUSE MIGHT HAVE finished the curtailed 2019/20 season of the Top 14 in seventh position but that ranking certainly isn’t a completely accurate indicator of their quality.

Les Toulousains were just six points off third place when the LNR ruled that the campaign was over, while they won all six of their pool games in the Champions Cup before the European campaign was put on hold.

So as Ulster get ready to face the Top 14 side in France this weekend, there will be a detailed awareness of the dangers they face. 

toulouses-cheslin-kolbe Cheslin Kolbe scored two tries last weekend. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Toulouse have started the 2020/21 season in thrilling fashion, nearly beating Clermont away from home on the first weekend despite losing two men to red cards. They came up short on a 33-30 scoreline after getting very close to pulling off a remarkable comeback.

In round two last weekend, Ugo Mola’s men were impressive as they kept 15 players on the pitch and notched a 39-23 win at home against Jono Gibbes and Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle.

There were stunning passages of sweeping attack featuring classic Toulouse offloading, most notably for the final try through centre Sofiane Guitoune, while World Cup-winning Springbok wing Cheslin Kolbe scored two tries in an effervescent performance that underlined his threat.

It was interesting to see fullback Thomas Ramos – fresh from a sensational pass between his legs metres from his own tryline against Clermont – kicking six penalties against La Rochelle, as Toulouse highlighted that they’re not just about cutting loose in attack. 

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World-class scrum-half Antoine Dupont has started the new campaign in excellent form, while 21-year-old out-half Romain Ntamack is playing with a calmness that doesn’t completely tally with his youth.

With the likes of Jerome Kaino, Charlie Faumuina, and Rory Arnold providing a grizzled edge up front, Toulouse look like the balanced, exciting team that enjoyed a clean sweep in the group stages of the 2019/20 Champions Cup.

Toulouse’s return to competitiveness in Europe in recent years has been hugely welcome and as Leinster eye up a record-setting fifth title in the coming weeks, we can be certain that the men from la Ville Rose have a similar target. As things stand, Leinster and Toulouse are tied on four Heineken Cup titles apiece. 

Excitingly, Ulster favour a positive, pass-heavy brand of high-tempo attack under Dan McFarland, meaning this Sunday’s meeting could be an enthralling quarter-final.

The game has been moved to the Toulouse’s home venue of Stade Ernest Wallon, rather than the bigger Le Stadium, due to the ongoing restrictions on crowds in the prefecture of Haute-Garonne.

Toulouse will have 5,000 fans in the stadium on Sunday, the same number that made a decent racket last weekend against La Rochelle, so while the Top 14 club is “enormously frustrated” not to have a bigger crowd along, it’s better than nothing.

Having won away to Racing in last season’s quarter-finals in dramatic fashion, Toulouse came up short against Leinster in the European semi-finals, losing on a 30-12 scoreline as they failed to score a try against Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster’s blue wall.

As they return to knock-out rugby in Europe this weekend, Toulouse will be intent on making sure their strike weapons fire against Ulster.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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