Match Preview: Stade Toulousain vs. Ulster Rugby

Sean Reidy

Sean Reidy starts at openside flanker

Well, that wasn’t expected!

From our scintillating and clinical attacking to our stubborn and water-tight defence, last Friday night was as close to a perfect performance as you’re probably going to see with too many fantastic individual performances to single out. Say what you want about Toulouse, yes they were poor but only because we closed them down expertly and made sure that their big ball carriers were rendered completely ineffective.

But, as has been made abundantly clear, last week’s result only counts if we can make the most of it this Sunday with another win – given our away form this season and the fact that we are looking to end Toulouse’s unbeaten run this season at home that is far from a formality. Both we and Toulouse know exactly what needs to happen this week.

We need to win.

For either of us a defeat probably spells the end of our European dream as it would be Toulouse’s third defeat and, while it would only be our second, we still have to go to Saracens which will be an incredibly tough game. So to say this game will define both teams’ European seasons is something of an understatement – lose and your quarter-final aspirations will take a massive nose dive.

And it’s hard to say who has the upper hand as well. Nick Kennedy was interviewed during the week by Alex Payne of Sky Sports and he said that the back-to-back matches are the worst thing for a team who had a big win in the first game as it is more than likely they will be on the end of a backlash a week later. So although we had the better game last weekend, Toulouse will be really up for it at home.

Suddenly though you get the faint belief that this side has something to it. We’ve been building slowly – our second half against Leinster was good, we mastered the conditions against Edinburgh and then last week it all clicked – it feels like this team is coming together at the right time and that they are hitting good form. If we can produce the same intensity as last week, no we probably won’t nil them or stick 38 points on them, but we stand a very good chance of taking four points from them.

Last week we became the first team to ever keep Toulouse scoreless in a European match and only the third team in their history to nil them after our brilliant rearguard effort. As a result it means Toulouse are still 21 points short of scoring their 4000th point in Europe, and ideally we’d like to hope they’ll have to wait until round 5 to hit that mark as well.

However they do have a great record at home having won their first five Top14 matches at the Stade Ernest Wallon this season as well as their round 2 match against Oyonnax in this competition. They have also lost just twice to Irish opposition at home in Europe, while we have only completed the French opposition twice in 20 years – against Castres in 2012/13 and Montpellier a season later.

And it is also interesting to note that Toulouse have averaged the most offloads per game in the Champions Cup (19) this season while we averaged the lowest (3.5).

Last week was a phenomenal victory and it will have given us a lot of confidence going into one of our trickiest away games of the season, and if we can manage to snatch the win for the second week in a row then suddenly the dream of quarter-final qualification is alive and kicking once more. And wouldn’t it be great to stick it to the PRL machine to have an Irish side in the quarter-finals amidst all our problems?

And it will take a monumental effort that we can provide.

The teams

Nine changes for Ugo Mola’s team as they keep one eye on the visit of Toulon next weekend. In the backs it’s a whole new back three as Alexis Palisson starts at full-back while there are two flying Fijians on the wings in Semi Kunatani and Timoci Matanavou. In the centres Gael Fickou keeps his spot and is joined by Florian Fritz on the inside. Sebastien Bezy is another to keep his place but he has a new half-back partner in Jean-Marc Doussain. Up front Census Johnston is retained on the tighthead with Cyril Baille and Julien Marchand joining him, while behind them in the second row Yoann Maestri is partnered by Gregory Lamboley. The back row is relatively unaffected with the only change seeing Imanol Harinordoquy coming in for Louis Picamoles who, along with Gillian Galan, has recovered in time to be named among the replacements.

Two changes for us from last week’s win as an injury to Chris Henry means Sean Reidy is drafted onto the openside flank while Roger Wilson rotates in for Nick Williams at number eight. Lewis Stevenson replaces Clive Ross on the bench.

 

Stade Toulousain vs. Ulster Rugby

Sunday 20th December, 13:00

Stade Ernest Wallon

European Rugby Champions’ Cup – Pool Game 4

 

Live on Sky Sports 3

 

STADE TOULOUSAIN

15. Alexis Palisson, 14. Semi Kunatani, 13. Gael Fickou, 12. Florian Fritz, 11. Timoci Matanavou, 10. Jean-Marc Doussain, 9. Sebastien Bezy; 1. Cyril Baille, 2. Julien Marchand, 3. Census Johnston, 4. Gregory Lamboley, 5. Yoann Maestri, 6. Yacouba Camara, 7. Thierry Dusautoir (capt.), 8. Imanol Harinordoquy.

Replacements: 16. Christopher Tolofua, 17. Gurthro Steenkamp, 18. Gert Muller, 19. Joe Tekori, 20. Louis Picamoles, 21. Gillian Galan, 22. David Mele, 23. Clement Poitrenaud.

ULSTER RUGBY

15. Louis Ludik, 14. Andrew Trimble, 13. Luke Marshall, 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Craig Gilroy, 10. Paddy Jackson, 9. Ruan Pienaar; 1. Kyle McCall, 2. Rory Best (capt.), 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 4. Alan O’Connor, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 6. Robbie Diack, 7. Sean Reidy, 8. Roger Wilson.

Replacements: 16. Rob Herring, 17. Andrew Warwick, 18. Ricky Lutton, 19. Lewis Stevenson, 20. Nick Williams, 21. Paul Marshall, 22. Ian Humphreys, 23. Rory Scholes.

 

Referee: JP Doyle (RFU)

Assistant Referees: Darren Gamage, Paul Burton (both RFU)

TMO: David Grashoff (RFU)