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Battle-hardened Ulster are excited by chance to upset returning Toulouse fans, says McFarland



Dan McFarland

Dan McFarland

�INPHO/James Crombie

Dan McFarland

In this rugby season more than any other, there is no time allotted for the licking of wounds.

Having returned back to Belfast in the early hours of Sunday morning after losing the PRO14 final to Leinster, Ulster will regather today to immediately switch focus to this weekend's trip to Toulouse in the Champions Cup quarter-finals.

Given the alternative - 12 of their PRO14 rivals will have spent last weekend and this on their sofas - Dan McFarland's men will understand that this is the cost of doing business, but having the three biggest games of your season separated by just 15 days brings with it a unique challenge.

"It is tough," admitted McFarland, the head coach who has led the side to the last eight in Europe's top competition for a second time in as many seasons after a four-year absence.

"Obviously eight days (from the final) we play Toulouse who, I know they were eighth last year in the Top 14, but if you watch them, they're one of the best teams in Europe.

"Size, speed, offload ability and they've got the best number nine in the world. Try and find a weakness in their game, it's really difficult.

"It's a challenge but it's a motivation too. Different opposition, different competition, an actual crowd - wow - that's awesome even if it's only 5,000 Toulouse fans. We'll be motivated by that and we'll look forward to that challenge."

The nine to which McFarland refers to as 'the best in the world' is French star Antoine Dupont, the brilliant 23-year-old who is back for Toulouse when injury would have kept him out of the tie had it been played as scheduled in April before the coronavirus forced its postponement.

Dupont is far from the lone star at the Stade Ernest-Wallon though, the four-time European champions also boasting the likes of his Les Bleus half-back partner Romain Ntamack, electrifying Springbok winger Cheslin Kolbe and two-time World Cup winning All Black Jerome Kaino.

Toulouse warmed up for Sunday's clash with a convincing win over the La Rochelle side of former Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes.

"As coaches we've (already) started our work, we've done our homework. We'll mix in our own reviews from the final and what's relevant for Toulouse over the next couple of days and put together what we know to make a game plan to hopefully go and win," added McFarland.

"We've had a number of tough games so we can say we're battle hardened, for sure."

Belfast Telegraph