Ulster 22 Toulouse 29
Toulouse brought an end to Ulster's 25-match winning streak at the Kingspan stadium spanning over two years with a four try, bonus-point win, spearheaded by a brace from man-of-the-match Cheslin Kolbe, who replicated his feat against the same opponents in last season's Champions Cup quarter-final in September.
The French side were more ruthless in taking their opportunities and that is something that Ulster will rue when they review the performance. The home side will reflect upon chances not taken, a lack of precision led to several turnovers close to the Toulouse line. They had to content themselves with a losing bonus point.
The first five minutes were consumed by three scrums, a lineout, several errors and a penalty, the game devoid of rhythm as players struggled with the challenging conditions of heavy rain and a sodden ball and surface in Belfast.
Ulster won a couple of quick penalties and from the second engineered a lineout five metres from the Toulouse line. A well constructed maul with some additional ballast provided by Jacob Stockdale, allowed hooker Rob Herring to plunge over for a try. John Cooney struck a beautiful conversion.
It got even better almost immediately after Toulouse had put the restart into touch. From the ensuing scrum, Cooney took Madigan's pass on the loop, Matt Faddes and James Hume provided the link passes and Madigan outpaced the cover to the corner for a sublime try.
The key for Ulster was to maintain concentration but a turnover error gave Toulouse possession. Kolbe was faced by three defenders but the Springbok wing chipped, won the footrace and profited from a kindly bounce to dot down, his third try against Ulster in the last two months.
Thomas Ramos kicked a fine conversion to make it 12-7. Ulster spurned a gilt-edged chance following a snipe by Cooney, the ball squirting out from a ruck five metres from the Toulouse line. It was further compounded by a couple of blocked grubber kicks on the threshold of the Toulouse 22; Stockdale eventually rescued his team after the ball was hacked up field and into the Ulster 22.
The home side conceded a scrum penalty, another at the lineout that followed but Toulouse captain and hooker Julien Marchand's decision to take a quick tap penalty from five metres didn't pan out. Antoine Dupont lost the ball in contact three phases later and Cooney thumped the ball clear. The Toulouse scrumhalf would atone emphatically minutes later.
Dupont’s speed of thought allowed him to snap up a loose ball at a scrum, throw a dummy and dart over for a try, a well taken, if soft score. Ramos’s conversion pushed the French side into a 14-12 interval lead.
Cooney kicked a penalty, missed one, but perhaps more worrying Ulster lost Marcell Coetzee and captain Sam Carter for HIAs; neither returned and Ulster's hopes were further dashed when Rory Arnold barrelled over for a try following a lineout maul.
Ulster turned down a simple penalty chance and were rewarded when Herring surged over for a try following the lineout maul, his second of the night and last involvement.
Stockdale, who was having a fine game then suffered a rough 90 seconds, penalised for a high fend and then stepped by Kolbe, who grabbed a second try. But the Ireland wing showed his character by latching on to a clever Madigan kick and racing into the Toulouse 22.
Maxime Medard was shown a yellow card but the home side coughed up a turnover having twice kicked penalties to touch at the corner. It was to be Ulster's last hurrah from an attacking perspective, Ramos kicked a penalty from the halfway line to copper-fasten a victory for last season's beaten semi-finalists.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 13 mins: Herring try, Cooney con, 7-0; 16: Madigan try, 12-0; 19: Kolbe try, Ramos con, 12-7; 39: Dupont try, Ramos con, 12-14. Half-time: 12-14. 43: Cooney pen, 15-14; 52: Arnold try, Ramos con, 15-21; 57: Herring try, Cooney con, 22-21; 64: Kolbe try, 22-26; 76: Ramos pen, 22-29.
ULSTER: M Lowry; M Faddes, J Hume, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; I Madigan, J Cooney; E O'Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore; A O'Connor, S Carter (capt); M Rea, S Reidy, M Coetzee.
Replacements: G Jones for Coetzee (43 mins); D O'Connor for Carter (50 mins); T O'Toole for Moore (51 mins); J Andrew for Herring (57 mins); C Gilroy for Madigan (72 mins); A Warwick for O'Sullivan (75 mins).
TOULOUSE: M Medard; M Lebel, S Guitoune, R Ntamack, C Kolbe; T Ramos, A Dupont; C Baille, J Marchand (capt), C Faumuina; R Arnold, J Tekori; R Elstadt, A Placines, S Tolofua.
Replacements: P Ahki for Lebel (53 mins); R Neti for Baille (54 mins); L Maudale for Placines, E Meafou for Tekori (both 58 mins); Y Youyoutte for Arnold (62 mins); A Bales for Dupont (63 mins); G Marchand for J Marchand (70 mins); G Ainu'u for Faumuina (75 mins).
Yellow card: M Medard (70 mins).
Referee: M Carley (England).