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Losing at home in Europe is a difficult blow to take, admits Ulster coach McFarland after Toulouse reverse


Toulouse's Antoine Dupont makes a break to score a try (INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

Toulouse's Antoine Dupont makes a break to score a try (INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Toulouse's Antoine Dupont makes a break to score a try (INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

It had all the hallmarks of what we have come to expect from European get-togethers in winter which only made the final outcome all the more bitterly frustrating for Ulster.

After all, it was a foul night weather-wise and we even had a French side who, at times, looked suitably burdened by the environment.

It all coalesced to produce a game that was available to be won by the home team on what was also the 22nd anniversary of Ulster's epic Quarter-Final defeat of Toulouse back when they went on to conquer Europe.

That Ulster also didn't go on to avenge September's 36-8 pasting handed out to them by Toulouse's star-laden squad in last season's Quarter-Final, albeit over in France, not only brought their two-year unbeaten home record in all competitions to an end - indeed, their last European loss on home soil was in 2017 - but also, more significantly, thanks to this season's condensed format, their chances of making Europe's last-eight are already looking pretty shredded.

Not only that, but losing both Marcell Coetzee and skipper Sam Carter during the game - they both went off for head injury assessments - must make them doubts for Saturday's second-round clash at Gloucester.

This time around, there was little to separate the sides but Ulster's surrender of their early 12-0 lead, and another two dazzling scores from Cheslin Kolbe, ensured that Dan McFarland cut a deeply frustrated figure as he tried to come to terms with the result and the inescapable fact that Toulouse's star names - particularly Kolbe and Antoine Dupont - had been able to make a crucial difference in achieving their bonus-point result.

"It was a game that but for a couple of things that didn't go our way early on in the second half we could easily have won," said McFarland. "The conditions were difficult and the game was slowed down a lot by injuries but the guys got stuck in, didn't they?

"There was a huge amount of effort in there and you can't underestimate that when you're running against and tackling guys of their size that there's a wear and tear on that.

"We lost two of our biggest players (Coetzee and Carter) relatively early in the game and that's difficult to cope with, but the guys put their bodies on the line non-stop.

"It's a real shame for them that we've lost at home."

Ulster were good value for their three tries which warmed the 500 supporters allowed in, Rob Herring's brace coming off impressive mauls while Ian Madigan's was the end-product of an excellent backline move, but Toulouse's ability to score from seemingly nothing swung the balance.

Perhaps Ulster also lacked some cohesiveness after only getting key men Jacob Stockdale, Stuart McCloskey and Herring back from their lengthy stint with Ireland, and maybe those mostly comfortable eight wins in the PRO14 weren't such an ideal lead-in but, regardless, there was still more available to Ulster than a losing bonus point.

While McFarland felt Toulouse's third score, from lock Rory Arnold, should have been ruled out, he also reckoned soft defending from Ulster had led to Kolbe's brace and Dupont's solo run, the latter which helped put the visitors 14-12 in front at half-time.

Maybe, but Toulouse's game-changers had just done their thing when it was needed and, in that regard, Ulster - despite leading twice in the second half - fell somewhat short and also failed to take any advantage from Maxime Medard's late yellow card.

Most importantly, Ulster's hopes of tasting knockout rugby for a third straight season now look all but done.

Sunday Life