Heineken Champions Cup Preview: Toulouse Vs Ulster
The gap between the Pool stages and the knockout rounds of the Heineken Champions Cup always feels painfully long; this year, it’s been positively excruciating. But this weekend, the finest club rugby competition on the planet is back in business with the quarter-finals – and there’s plenty of Irish interest!
Newly crowned Pro14 champs Leinster will lock horns with Saracens, hotly tipped to progress, but the real question marks hang over the other Irish province in action. Ulster will travel to Toulouse with the taste of their weekend defeat lingering – and a determination to wipe those memories away with what would be a historic victory against the French aristocrats.
The game is live on Sunday from noon on Virgin Media One, Virgin TV 103. And what to expect? Well, read on…
FEAR OF THE FORM
Toulouse warmed up for the showdown with a win against Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle, a nip-and-tuck battle that eventually saw them pull clear towards the end. Ulster, as most people know, had the misfortune of encountering Leinster on their now-annual procession towards the Pro14 trophy. But if there’s one thing we know about sport, it’s that a week is a very long time, and with a change of scenery – and change of tournament – the events of last weekend could be consigned to the dustbin of history pretty quickly…
A FLAIR PAIR
While there was definitely a fallow period – a turgid, disinterested, mediocre period – Toulouse are back where they belong; not only recognised as a leading team in Europe, but widely acknowledged as one of the most attractive teams to watch play the game. Thing is, Ulster have stepped their game up in that regard too, as the likes of James Hume and Rob Lyttle prove there’s plenty of firepower in their arsenal. While going all out fighting fire with fire might be a bridge too far, Ulster won’t shy away from pinning their ears back and giving the French side a taste of their own familiar medicine!
WHOLE LOT OF HISTORY
There aren’t too many sides who own a winning record over the side that’s won the tournament four times – but Ulster will look at past results fondly, not least the famous back-to-back wins completed five years ago. OK, there won’t be too much chance of carrying momentum from those contests, but you can guarantee Stuart McCloskey, Sean Reidy and Alan O’Connor will be regaling their teammates of those famous successes – and convincing them there’s no reason they can’t be repeated…
A WING AND A PRAYER
While there’s quality all over the park for both sides, each boast a flying wideman who’s worth the price of admission alone; South African magician Cheslin Kolbe for Toulouse, and Ireland’s own fantastic finisher Jacob Stockdale for Ulster. The World Cup winner bagged a brace last weekend, demonstrating the quick feet and eye for the line that makes him such a menace – and while Lisburn’s finest hasn’t had the most prolific season of his career, it would be entirely unsurprising if he manages to conjure up some scores when it matters most!
The Heineken Champions Cup, the Guinness Six Nations, and plenty of the round ball too; get your fix of kicks with Virgin Media Sports – click here to find out what’s in store!