Nobody will want to play here, bar Ulster. Long before half-time, which had the astonishing scoreline of 30-3, Toulouse, the aristocrats of France, were staring at the guillotine after a journey to hell and back.
Toulouse are the only club to have won the Heineken Cup three times, and they did so in Cardiff, Dublin and Edinburgh. Belfast is a very different cauldron. Ravenhill is Ulster's answer to Munster's Thomond Park in Limerick, slightly less claustrophobic but every bit as intimidating. The home side rose to the occasion magnificently; Toulouse were humiliated. Never in the history of the competition have they been treated with such contempt.
Ulster have been on the rise for the last couple of seasons. They head the Magners League and under the coach Mark McCall have assembled a strong squad which, in front of the faithful, plays with an almost irresistible passion. In 1999, when the English boycotted the tournament, Ulster won the title after a series of outstanding displays against France's crème de la crème. None were as impressive as yesterday's tour de force.
David Humphreys was named the man of the match, or mismatch, although Ulster had any number of candidates holding up the Red Hand. There was the dashing left wing Andrew Trimble, who scored two cracking tries; any member of a barnstorming back row; and then there was the captain, Justin Harrison, the celebrated Wallaby.
Humphreys got the accolade though, and nobody was arguing. The supremely talented stand-off is the only survivor from the team that lifted the trophy. He was the captain then, taking over from his centre, McCall, who withdrew through injury. Humphreys has had his appearances for Ireland rationed by the presence of Ronan O'Gara but at Ravenhill he is the king.
In the Heineken Cup he is the fourth-highest points-scorer of all time and in his 52nd appearance in the competition he added another 15, taking his total to 517. His contribution yesterday was three penalties and the conversions of Ulster's three tries. If they had any regrets on such a memorable day it was that they didn't score a fourth try to nail a bonus point. They nailed everything else.
By the ninth minute, Toulouse were in the tumbril, 10 points adrift. Their coach, Guy Noves, said before the match: "There are certain places you do not expect to win and Ravenhill is one of them." He tempted fate and it ran all over him. Toulouse were missing their stand-off, Frédéric Michalak, who, through injury, is not expected to return for another three weeks, but their strength in depth is such that they had the Lions captain Gareth Thomas on the bench until half-time, by which time Ulster were out of sight.
In the opening minutes they carved open a half-hearted defence, Humphreys slipping an inside pass to Tommy Bowe and Paul Steinmetz breaking clear to put in Trimble.
Humphreys, kicking beautifully, added a couple of penalties before Valentin Courrent scored his side's only points. On the half-hour, Ulster delivered a gem, Humphreys feigning to kick to touch from inside his 22. Instead he ran it to great effect down the right flank and although the move was stifled in midfield, when the ball was recycled the scrum-half, Isaac Boss, ran across field before cutting clean through from 40 yards. Like Steinmetz, Boss is a New Zealander, although he qualifies to play for Ireland through his grandmother.
Toulouse were embarrassed to the point of retaliation of the undisciplined kind. Trevor Brennan, their Irishman, went head to head with Harrison. On the stroke of half-time, Humphreys released Trimble with another inside pass and the wing again exposed the defence, sprinting clear from halfway. The try was confirmed by video. It couldn't get any worse for Toulouse - but it did. Yannick Jauzion, the Test centre, received a yellow card for a spear tackle on Harrison and Humphreys banged over the penalty from 50 yards.
At least Toulouse stopped the bleeding in the second half, even though they lost Fabien Pelous, the captain of France, to the sin bin, a fate that also awaited Justin Fitzpatrick. The difference in Fitzpatrick's case was that when he retired to the dugout he was given a standing ovation.
Ulster: B Cunningham; T Bowe (A Maxwell, 25), P Steinmetz (K Maggs, 74), P Wallace, A Trimble; D Humphreys, I Boss (K Campbell, 79); J Fitzpatrick, R Best, B Young, J Harrison (capt) (T Barker, 76), M McCullough, N Best (S Best, 69), R Wilson, S Ferris (K Dawson, 64).
Toulouse: C Poitrenaud (X Garbajosa, 59), V Clerc, Y Jauzion, F Fritz, C Heymans; J-F Dubois (G Thomas, 40), V Courrent; S Perugini, Y Bru (captain), O Hasan (D Human, 50), P Albacete (J Bouilhou, 64), T Brennan (R Millo-Chlusky, 40), T Dusautoir, F Pelous (capt), G Lamboley.
Referee: D Pearson (England).Reuse content