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Kolbe and Dupont shine as Toulouse beat Ulster in a thriller

South African winger scores two tries on a night when Ulster cough up a 12-0 first-half lead.

Toulouse Cheslin Kolbe scores a try.
Toulouse Cheslin Kolbe scores a try.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Updated at 23.28

ULSTER 22

TOULOUSE 29

Adam McKendry reports from Kingspan Stadium

IT LEFT YOU on the edge of your seat for the entire game, but ultimately Ulster’s valiant unbeaten home record came to an end at the hands of Toulouse in an utterly enthralling Heineken Champions Cup tie at Kingspan Stadium.

The two sides shared seven tries, the visitors walking away with the maximum haul from the game, but it was the star quality of Antoine Dupont and Cheslin Kolbe which made the difference between the two sides as the Toulouse stars provided three sensational solo scores to earn them the bonus point victory.

Kolbe started it off with a chip and chase score in the first half, followed by a superb Dupont sniping try just before the break, and in the end it was man of the match Kolbe who decided it all late in the second half when he wriggled his way over for the French side’s bonus point try.

cheslin-kolbe-is-presented-with-the-heineken-star-of-the-match-award Cheslin Kolbe with his man of the match award. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ulster at least answered questions about how their skill would translate from their unbeaten start to the Guinness PRO14 season to the step up that would be the Champions Cup, but they were missing that extra bit of quality that their opponents showed to dig in when full-back Maxime Medard was sin binned late on, and their 25 game unbeaten run in Belfast is over.

For a third straight season now, too, with only one point from a home tie a less than ideal return with only four games to gather points in, and Dan McFarland’s side will know they likely have to take at least four points from each of their final three games to return to the quarter-finals next spring.

romain-ntamack-comes-up-against-jacob-stockdale Romain Ntamack is tackled by Jacob Stockdale. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It had started so well for the province, too, after their trademark dominant driving maul made the breakthrough after just 15 minutes. After Iosefa Tekori was penalised at the first effort, the second wasn’t to be denied, Jacob Stockdale helping shove Rob Herring over the line from close range for the opening score.

But if the first score was proof that the Irish model can work in both competitions, then the second – which came off the restart following Thomas Ramos’ kick straight into touch – was pure rugby at its best.

Off the scrum, John Cooney went on the wraparound with Ian Madigan to work the space down the wing for Matt Faddes, and when the Kiwi was able to go around the flailing Matthis Lebel, he had Cooney on his inside for the pass and the scrum-half, in turn, was able to set the supporting Madigan over in the corner for the second score.

antoine-dupont-with-charlie-faumuina-and-ugo-mola-in-the-final-moments-of-the-game Antoine Dupont with Charlie Faumuina and Toulouse Head Coach Ugo Mola in the final moments of the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Lethal from Ulster, but the visitors have made their reputation on their ability to create something from nothing, and it was tormentor-in-chief Kolbe who proved that, even in the pouring rain, they are still a swashbuckling outfit.

His score came from nothing, Sofiane Guitoune somehow shovelling the ball out to the flying Springbok on a scrappy play, and with space to work in, he chipped the onrushing Mike Lowry and then outpaced two defenders on his inside to regather and slide over the line to hand Toulouse the lifeline they needed to get back into the game.

matthew-rea-with-rynhardt-elstadt Ulster's Matty Rea introduces himself to Rynhardt Elstadt. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

From there, Ugo Mola’s men only continued to grow into the game. with Cyril Baille’s dominance over Marty Moore at the scrum starting to tell, and it was the French loosehead prop who added a bit of niggle to the game when he shoved Stuart McCloskey while the Ulster centre was tussling with Ramos on the floor.

But the difference at the interval would be the exceptional Dupont, who was keen to remind why he is one of the premier young talents in the improving French system.

Ulster had held out well up to that point, but the tiniest of mistakes tend to be punished by the best players. On the stroke of half-time, Cooney bit at a loose ball at the scrum and didn’t claim it cleanly, and his opposite number was only too happy to scoop it up instead and sear into the gap left by the Ulsterman, before turning Lowry inside out prior to diving over the line.

ian-madigan-dejected-after-the-game A dejected Ian Madigan walks to the dressing room. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Toulouse’s lead lasted just three minutes after the restart as Cooney slotted the first penalty of the night to put the home side back in front, but the visitors would quickly retake it as they finally flexed their muscles in the pack, and when they did it was brutally effective.

Destructive lock Iosefa Tekori made the initial surge, which turned into a maul taking the ball right to the line, and when it came back it needed just one surge from Rory Arnold, who rolled around the attempted tackle of Eric O’Sullivan to dot down.

But just when it seemed the visitors might run away with it, back came Ulster, and now four points down, they were searching for the try they needed rather than just staying in touch. It was a risky play when Cooney turned down a kick right in front of the posts, instead going for the corner, but it would pay off, Herring pushing over for his second of the night, with Cooney’s conversion retaking the lead for the hosts.

That was ultimately a false dawn, however, and fittingly on a night that was the opposite to conditions perfect for running rugby, it was Kolbe that decided it.

Ramos’ excellent crossfield kick for Guitoune got the visitors into the 22, and from there they made no mistake. The ball was shipped along the back line once again, with former Connacht man Pita Ahki feeding Kolbe, and the winger somehow managed to get up after slipping and still wriggle over for what proved to be the winning score.

It looked like Ulster had been handed a lifeline late on when Maxime Medard was sin binned for not releasing Stockdale cynically after the winger had burst into the 22 off the back of Madigan’s crossfield kick, but when Louis-Benoit Madaule grabbed John Andrew’s throw five metres from the line, that was the death knell to their hopes, with Ramos landing a halfway line penalty to ensure the result with three minutes to play.

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The scorers

For Ulster

Tries: Herring (2), Madigan
Cons: Cooney (2)
Pen: Cooney

For Toulouse

Tries: Kolbe (2), Dupont, Arnold

Cons: Ramos (3)

Pen: Ramos

ULSTER RUGBY

(15-9) Mike Lowry; Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Ian Madigan (Craig Gilroy 73), John Cooney; (1-8) Eric O’Sullivan (Andrew Warwick 75), Rob Herring (John Andrew 59), Marty Moore (Tom O’Toole 52); Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter (David O’Connor 51); Matty Rea, Sean Reidy, Marcell Coetzee (Greg Jones 44).

Subs not used: Alby Mathewson, Stewart Moore.

STADE TOULOUSAIN

(15-9) Maxime Medard; Matthis Lebel (Pita Ahki 54), Sofiane Guitoune, Romain Ntamack, Cheslin Kolbe; Thomas Ramos, Antoine Dupont (Alexis Bales 64); (1-8) Cyril Baille (Rodrigue Neti 55), Julien Marchand (Guillaume Marchand 71), Charlie Faumuina (David Ainu’u 59); Rory Arnold (Yannick Youyoutte 63), Iosefa Tekori (Emmanuel Meafou 59); Rynhardt Elstadt, Alban Placines (Louis-Benoit Madaule 59), Selevasio Tolofua.

Yellow card: Maxime Medard (71′)

Man of the Match: Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse)

Referee: Matthew Carley (England).

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