Fighting post-match talk from Antoine Dupont after Baloucoune brilliance
TOULOUSE 20-26 ULSTER
Antoine Dupont was in bullish mood after his 14-man Toulouse were beaten by Ulster in a pulsating Champions Cup 'Last 16' first leg.
If you had offered this result to even the most one-sided and optimistic Ulster supporter, ahead of today's match, your arm would have been snatched clean off.
And still... and still.
Ulster went 26-13 ahead against a Toulouse side that had been reduced to 14 men in the first half. Other sides may have faltered, and felt really sorry for themselves. Toulouse have not won five European Cups for nothing, though. They went for broke and got Romain Ntamack over for a late, converted try that gives them hope, heading to Belfast for the second leg.
Robert Baloucoune scored a brilliant hat-trick for Ulster, with his third a bolt-up gamble that saw him intercept an Antoine Dupont pass and race over 70 metres up the field for what was the clincher.
Robert Baloucoune blazes in his HAT-TRICK try! 🔥🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/4rLmGdk9yE
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) April 9, 2022
Fighting talk from Antoine Dupont
Toulouse supporters, smarting and roaring from the Juan Cruz Mallia red card in the 10th minute, were livid with that Robert Baloucoune try.
They felt the Ireland winger had jumped offside. He surely had, they must have told themselves, as there was no way THEIR Antoine Dupont would get picked off with such devastating ease. Surely?
Not so. Replays - amid the catcalls and jeers for Wayne Barnes and his officials - and photo stills showed Baloucone was not offside and had timed his rush to perfection.
The Toulouse fans were seeing everything through red-tinted glasses, but such is rugby. They may have moaned about the Mallia red, but the player himself acknowledged he had erred and sat distraught on the Toulouse bench for the rest of a thrilling match.
Andrew Warwick came off the Ulster bench and got only his second try for the province. It was a crucial one, too, and put Dan McFarland's side ahead for the first time in the game.
Baloucoune stuck the dagger, but that late Ntamack try gives Toulouse a strong pulse before the second leg at Kingspan Stadium. Post-match, Toulouse captain Antoine Dupont was certainly not waving any flags.
"We did not deserve to be down a man," he told reporters. "Ulster have been more clinical than we have. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We did not give up."
Ulster can head back home satisfied, but this tie is far, far from over.
Our Man of the Match: Robert Baloucoune (Ulster)