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French giants maintain heat in title battle ahead of visit to the Kingspan

By Jonathan Bradley

Ahead of their Champions Cup double-header with Ulster, Toulouse kept up with the Top 14's pacesetters over the weekend thanks to a comfortable 27-3 win over Oyonnax at the Stade Ernest Wallon on Saturday night.

Two teams that Ulster will become wholly familiar with over the next seven weeks - they face each side twice in Europe - the visitors took an early lead through a Regis Lespinas penalty after just three minutes.

It was, however, as good as things got for the side from the Rhone-Alps region as they did not score again and have now fallen to bottom place in their domestic league ahead of facing Ulster home and away in January.

Toulouse ran home three tries, flanker Talalelei Gray bagging a brace with former All Black Luke McAlister crossing in the second-half, while scrum-half Sebastien Bezy contributed 12 points from the boot in the triumph.

The victory sees Toulouse move level on points with Toulon in the upper reaches of the Top 14 but both trail leaders Clermont by a solitary point after Les Jaunards yesterday became the first side to beat Brive away this season.

While Toulouse's home form has been typically strong in their first season since seeing long-time boss Guy Noves depart for the French job, Ulster will take heart from how their visitors to the Kingspan Stadium on Friday night have fared on the road.

They began their Champions Cup campaign with a subdued 32-7 defeat to Saracens in London and the four-time European champions have also suffered reverses on their travels to Racing 92, Bordeaux and Pau domestically.

Toulouse's talisman Thierry Dusautoir is one man Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss will know he must negate if they are to avoid starting their European campaign with consecutive defeats for the second season in succession and the 34-year-old flanker announced this weekend that he is calling time on his international career.

The France captain made 80 appearances for the national team - having moved from his native Ivory Coast at the age of 10 - the last of which came in the World Cup quarter-final humbling at the hands of New Zealand back in October.

It will, however, be another performance against the All Blacks for which he is best remembered - the 2007 World Cup quarter-final in Cardiff when he scored a try and made a staggering 38 tackles.

On his decision to walk away from the Test arena, he revealed he had consulted with his former club coach Noves.

"We both arrived at the same conclusions," Dusautoir said of the meeting with the new French boss.

"If I had tried to just continue, forcing myself to do so, I would have been showing more vanity than anything else.

"In fact, I believe that this is the wisest decision.

"It was clear that I would not be playing in the next World Cup (in Japan in 2019).

"I've always set myself big goals and aims but this one was not reachable and it was never my intention to just grab a few more caps.

"My personality has always been to give the maximum for France before thinking about myself."

Belfast Telegraph


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