Hawkeye Sidekick

European Champions Cup: Ulster 38 – 0 Toulouse

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In a previous blog posting before the tournament kicked off, Hawkeye Sidekick put his reputation on the line by predicting Ulster as the only Irish provincial side to emerge from the pool phrases. After a humbling reversal in their first European fixture at home to Saracens three weeks ago, Ulster had to deliver tonight and by god did they do so and more? Hawkeye Sidekick reviews the action from Kingspan Stadium and identifies a player which Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt needs to add to the starting lineup for the RBS 6 Nations campaign.

Complete Performance?

The first fifty-three minutes of this contest must go down as the most impressive display delivered by an Ulster team in many a year. All facets of play were on point throughout. The pack who had being heavily criticized for their performance in that Saracens loss came to the party tonight. Solid scrum and lineout set the platform for Ruan Pienaar to set the tempo of the contest.

Toulouse actually started the game with intent and yielded an early penalty opportunity which was spurned by Toby Flood who had a torrid time in all facets of play and was a source of quick game line gains for the hosts throughout. The Ulster back row were abrasive, consistently in the faces of Toulouse players and never let the likes of Luke McAllister to settle into this key contest. It was within this backdrop that Ulster flourished on the scoreboard.

Ulster Dominance

After an even first twenty minutes, Ulster exploded into life. Toulouse minus the services of Louis Picamoles (arm injury) were starting to concede penalties which allowed Ulster to kick for the corner. The subsequent lineout was emphatically executed and allowed the pack to gain yards in the maul which led to the impressive Diack to setup Williams for the first score. Jackson had then slotted home a penalty to make it 10-0 and then came the pivotal moment of the game. Andrew Trimble had an excellent outing, constantly looking for ball throughout and his devastating line break from Pienaar skip pass just before half-time was sensationally scored. 17-0 to Ulster with Toulouse players trudging off at the interval knowing that the result and the European Cup campaign was pretty much over.

Second Half Supremacy

Ulster continued to pepper Toulouse’s line in the early second half exchanges. Gilroy was denied a certain try from a last ditch tackle from Vincent Clerc but the stay of execution was short lived for the French side as Luke Marshall scored under the posts with the move of the game. The several phrases that led up to the try was impressive enough with Stuart McCloskey (man mountain) looking for Toby Flood with ball in hand to make excellent game line yardage. The audacious kick from Pienaar to Marshall whose running line cut through Toulouse’s cover was a season show reel highlight.

The bonus point was now in sight and it duly was delivered when McCloskey scored after an impressive run. It was a night where Ulster delivered in spades. Herbst’s confidence was soaring, imposing in the scrum and now was taking on Finou on the outside with ball in hand. It was that sort of night for Ulster, everything worked perfectly. Ulster concluded the scoring with ten minutes left when Chris Henry went over after the pack mauled Toulouse’s pack to submission. Mission accomplished. Toulouse held scoreless for the first time in an European Cup fixture.

All about the boy McCloskey

I have being a huge supporter of Stuart McCloskey. My blogs before the Rugby World Cup implored Joe Schmidt to run the rule over the player. McCloskey’s performance tonight was nothing short of sensational. His partnership with Luke Marshall caught the eye, running lines, passing was on point all night. McCloskey’s physicality and hard running lines created endless problems for Toulouse tonight. Toby Flood was pinpointed by McCloskey with ball in hand and the end result was devastating. His try showed all the traits that Joe Schmidt looks for in a player, good running lines, pace and power all seen in all its glory. McCloskey has to be included for the Ireland 6N squad. I will even go as far as to say that he should play in the three quarters for Ireland during the tournament. Can Robbie Henshaw switch to thirteen as McCloskey’s raw potential has to be unleashed during the 6N tournament at twelve?

Toulouse – Empire Crumbling

Ulster were superb tonight but this performance shows how in decline Toulouse are. Toulouse maybe flying high in domestic action but the real acid test is in Europe and quite frankly Toulouse failed to deliver tonight. A Toulouse side not to register a score in an European contest will be greeted with the derision in South West France. Toulouse’s squad looks well short and the lack of leadership on the pitch when Louis Picamoles departed the pitch was damning. Toby Flood and Luke McAllister are exceptional football players but are constantly targeted by opposition in defensive duties. The front five was destroyed tonight and the lack of discipline throughout was horrendous. Yes, Nick Williams did get a yellow card for a WWE ruck clearout but Toulouse’s sin bins were the end result of the high penalty count. Wayne Barnes had no option but to unleash those cards. Toulouse are at best a top six French side.

The days of Guy Noves’ managerial success is long gone. It is sad to see one of the power houses of European Rugby struggle so badly tonight. Ulster no doubt will expect a backlash but whether Toulouse will risk front line players when effectively out of the competiton could potentially see Ulster securing a vital road win. Ulster are back in the European Cup. This performance tonight is the baseline where the team needs to produce week in week out. Ulster’s squad is talent laden, now it is the job of Les Kiss and management to nurture this talent to produce consistent high level performances. Well done Ulster, a morale boosting victory for Irish rugby. Over to you Munster and Leinster as Connacht continue to impress in the European Challenge Cup with a fantastic 25-10 over Newcastle.