Ulster 38-0 Toulouse: Hosts run in five tries as Ruan Pienaar leads the demolition of fancied French rivals
A rampant Ulster enjoyed another famous European night as they breathed new life into their Champions Cup campaign with a demolition of Toulouse at Kingspan on Friday night.
The much-fancied French visitors came to Belfast flying high in the Top 14 and with a host of star names but Ulster ran in five tries without conceding as much as a point in response.
Having lost to Saracens in the pool opener three weeks ago, Ulster knew they needed a response but few would predicted that it would come in such an emphatic style.
The scores came through Nick Williams, Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey and Chris Henry and, with such a strong performance behind them, they face the same opponents next week when another win would throw them right back in the quarter-final mix.
Despite the huge win, the province entered the contest severely depleted by a recent spate of injuries - with Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne and Stuart Olding already on the sidelines, they lost the services of Iain Henderson, Darren Cave, Dan Tuohy and Pete Nelson during last week's Pro12 victory over Edinburgh - making what originally seemed a formidable challenge all the more daunting.
Come the final whistle, it would be a wholly different story with Ulster making their much-heralded opposition look abject.
With the game entering its second quarter, and having been thwarted twice at the breakdown already, Ulster got the decision from refereee Wayne Barnes when substitute Gillian Galan transgressed and Best instructed Jackson to go for the corner.
The line-out move called to catapult Williams over the line was read by Toulouse but possession was recycled and, receiving a pass from Robbie Diack, the No.8 was there again to power over.
Jackson nailed the straightforward conversion for a 7-0 lead and Ulster had both the lead and all the momentum.
The pressure was heightened on their opponents when McCloskey led the charge upfield, Jackson took up the baton and scrum-half Sebastien Bezy tackled his opposite number Ruan Pienaar from an offside position.
This time Ulster went for the points and Jackson kicked them into a 10-point lead.
Despite playing a man down, Toulouse earned, but spurned, an opportunity to reduce the deficit when Toby Flood was wayward with a penalty attempt.
The Top 14 outfit looked to have managed the deficit without concession and the numbers were levelled when Barnes and the TMO combined to show Williams a yellow when he was adjudged to have illegally entered a ruck with an arm that made contact with Bonneval.
With half-time approaching, and Bezy waiting to re-enter the fray, Ulster struck again through Andrew Trimble.
A line-out on half-way was taken by Robbie Diack and as Pienaar looked to spin away he was tripped by Yacouba Camara.
The Springbok kept his composure and regained his feet before releasing Trimble with the wing able to gather his own chip ahead and dot down.
With Barnes going back to show Camara a yellow, it was the perfect half-time boost for Les Kiss' side.
After the turn, Ulster's upward curve almost continued immediately when a strong break from Luke Marshall allowed Diack to free Gilroy in the corner but the covering tackle from Vincent Clerc did just enough to dislodge the ball.
The wait for the third try was not long in coming however as, after his reverse pass saw Diack stopped just short of the line, Pienaar launched a crossfield kick on his less favoured left foot that was measured over the Toulouse backline and collected by Marshall to round the corner and score under the posts.
Jackson was sure-footed with the straightforward conversion and, as Williams returned from the bin, matters looked increasingly forlorn for the French.
When Stuart McCloskey burned Toulouse on the outside before stepping inside the despairing last defender to score, the job for Ulster was well and truly complete with just under half-an-hour remaining.
For the hosts' final score, a rolling maul which Toulouse had no answer for, rumbled its way forward, dragged by the consistently impressive Franco van der Merwe, with Chris Henry the man on hand to finish it off.
Substitute Ian Humphreys was on target with the tough conversion as Ulster thoughts turned to repeating the trick at the Stade Ernest Wallon in eight days' time.