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Ulster suffer late European heartbreak as Antoine Dupont strikes at the death to secure dramatic Toulouse victory


Toulouse full-back Thomas Ramos celebrates after their win over Ulster at Ravenhill (Peter Morrison/PA Wire)

Toulouse full-back Thomas Ramos celebrates after their win over Ulster at Ravenhill (Peter Morrison/PA Wire)


Toulouse full-back Thomas Ramos celebrates after their win over Ulster at Ravenhill (Peter Morrison/PA Wire)

Ulster suffered late European heartbreak at Ravenhill, missing out on the Champions Cup quarter-finals by the most slender of margins.

Reigning champions Toulouse will instead take their place in the last eight after their 30-23 victory, the product of a 75th minute score from Antoine Dupont, saw them advance on aggregate by a score of 50-49.

With Dan McFarland's men having carried a six-point advantage into the game thanks to last week's victory in the south of France, for long periods of this back-and-forth tie it looked as if it would be enough to go through and host Irish rivals Munster back here next month.

But with replacement prop Tom O'Toole red carded in the 65th minute, they would come up agonisingly short. Just how large does Romain Ntamack's 79th minute try a week ago loom now?

Ntamack was to the fore again in the second leg, creating one try and scoring another while it was reigning World Player of the Year Dupont who supplied the last-gasp heroics.

If Ulster were to progress, it was always to be through the strength of their collective in the face of such star power but losing out to the holders by the odd point in 99 will be of little solace, especially after such a noteworthy win in the away leg.

After just 90 seconds, their lead carried from that game had been halved. French international openside Anthony Jelonch got in on the poach and Duane Vermeulen was pinged for holding on. Thomas Ramos, the visitor's sure-footed full-back, made no mistake from the tee.

And from the resulting restart, Ulster's task became all the harder. Robert Baloucoune tried to put on the brakes but couldn't stop in time to avoid an aerial collision with Jelonch and the hero of last week's first leg was rightly sent to the sin bin.

The northern province would not be down a man long, though. With the home crowd in as full a voice as they've been for many a game, they howled as Dimitri Delibes tackle on Ethan McIlroy was flashed on the big screen and, after only five minutes of play, both sides had a man in the bin.

It was the hosts who made the most of the situation. With Toulouse giving away a free-kick at the line-out, Billy Burns hoisted a testing up and under skyward with Ulster sensing blood off the resulting knock-on. Mike Lowry sent through a probing grubber and, when Toulouse tried to take the line-out quickly, it was the diminutive full-back harrying Antoine Dupont into a knock-on five metres from his own line. Rather than settle for the scrum, Ulster played on getting the ball to James Hume in plenty of space. The centre drew the hobbling Lebel off his wing before offloading to McIlory for the score.

Ramos would add another penalty before Baloucoune returned to the pitch, although Cooney would quickly cancel out the effort with three points of his own when, amid more confusion, Toulouse played the ball from an offside position.

With a quarter of the game gone, Ulster's lead across the two legs was ten.

The European champions can flip a game like a lightswitch though, and once again it was the ever elusive Romain Ntamack who did the damage.

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Gliding through the middle of the park, the man whose late try a week ago changed the complexion of this tie broke the line again. With his partner in crime Dupont on his shoulder a swift exchange saw Ramos streaking under the posts for the score.

Five minutes later, Ulster's lead was gone, this time Ntamack needing no assistance. Marcus Rea was under pressure in the maul but did well to get his pass away to Rob Herring. Ntamack read the move though, darting into John Cooney's passing lane and going all the way off the intercept.

If there was a sense that Ulster would do well to regroup at half-time, it was not shared by the players.

A hard earned scrum penalty was sent to the corner and, when Toulouse infringed at the subsequent maul, Cooney barked for the ball. Quickly finding his half-back partner Burns, the number ten's cross-kick was well measured but still required a quite sublime finish from McIlroy, the winger leaping, gathering one-handed over Ramos, and dotting down all in one motion. Cooney's sideline conversion ensured Ulster would reach the turn trailing by three in the game but leading by the same margin in the tie.

With half an hour remaining, when Peato Mauvaka went off his feet after an Andy Warwick carry, Cooney again made no mistake from the tee.

Toulouse were throwing everything at Ulster with a super Duane Vermeulen turnover quelling one threating attack.

Billy Burns was to depart for an HIA just before the hour and, with Lowry shifted to ten, Ulster hearts were in mouths when their new out-half collided in the air with Ramos. After a lengthy adjudication, the officiating team decreed he'd been in a position to challenge for the ball. Penny for the thoughts of Ugo Mola after the events of a week ago.

Going for another steal, this time Vermeulen was pinged under his own posts with Ramos nudging his side back in front on the night. If Toulouse thought Ulster had escaped a red before, there'd be no dodging of the bullet a second time with replacement prop Tom O'Toole spending just three minutes on the field before a high hit on Jelonch saw him dismissed.

Crucially, Ulster would score next, a Toulouse infringement allowing for Cooney's fifth kick of the night to leave the visitors requiring a converted score to advance.

It would arrive with five minutes to go. Ulster looked to have been given a reprieve when a Toulouse line-out went astray but, attacking off the clearance, Dupont found just enough space in their undermanned defence to slip through to the side of the posts leaving Ramos with the simplest of conversions.

Needing a score, any score, Ulster would not get another sniff.

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