What chances, you wonder, would you have been given at the start of the day that Ulster would go to the home of the European Cup holders and most successful team and walk away wishing that tie of 16 is more of a one-legged affair?

second straight win in France after going five years without one is a significant achievement in itself for Dan McFarland’s side, but they will have seen plenty of Toulouse at 14 to know it’s a tie that will still live on when the teams will meet back in Belfast next weekend.

It was a game, naturally, overturned by Juan Cruz Malla knocking down Ben Moxham on his own.

With the match only ten minutes old when the aerial clash resulted in a red card for the Toulouse wing, enough time had passed to feel that the reds and blacks were in the mood to take a big step towards a sixth star on their shirt.

They led on Emmanuel Meafou’s score in the sixth minute and even at this early stage were on their second visit to Ulster’s ’22’.

Whether that was to be the pattern of the game or an opening purple patch will never be known, but in their 70 minutes as a man down, they were clearly a team determined not to give up their crown without a fight.

Explosive in the contact zone, their ruck work meant Ulster would never feel on the most stable foot, while their imposing pair of locks ensured it was a tough day at the lineout too.

The fact that they led until the hour mark was a testament to how they negated Ulster’s usual strengths, particularly in the set piece and their usually powerful maul, but when the visitors arrived around the edges and made the most of their extra man, they had a supreme finisher in fine form in the person of Robert Baloucoune.

The 24-year-old missed the recent trip to South Africa but, just like when he returned from a shoulder injury in the group stages, hasn’t missed a beat here.

By the time of his first score just after the red card, he had already shown his defensive skills with a fine tackle on Thomas Ramos to stop what looked like a certain try to his flank and it was a testament to his skill without the ball . that on the day he scored his first professional hat-trick, his contributions to Toulouse stoppage were almost as significant.

While his second didn’t ask for much, with an ailing Stuart McCloskey having done the lion’s share of the work, his third showed his good instincts.

With raucous home fans, already infuriated by the all-right red card decision, screaming that the two-time Ireland international had jumped off the line early, replays seemed to suggest he timed things just to snatch Antoine Dupont’s looping pass from the air and sprinting for the opposing posts.

With loose replacement prop Andrew Warwick crashing out between Baloucoune’s second and final try, a 13-point lead with ten minutes left looked to have a foot in Ulster in the last eight. Toulouse, however, would have one last sting in the tail.

With their offloading game ensuring things were completed at a blistering pace, it was the hosts who were on their toes as the final whistle approached.

When Ulster dispatched a penalty past their posts, overturning it and accepting a ten-point deficit in the circumstances seemed likely, but Ugo Mola’s men had other ideas.

Their bravery was rewarded when, suddenly and off they went, Romain Ntamack scored a try that could weigh so heavily in seven days.

Indeed, after claiming the kick-off and attacking deep, there was a brief moment when it looked like they could pull off one of the most incredible comebacks in the competition’s long history. Instead, a punch ended things.

At the final whistle, both groups of players collapsed onto the grass, a combination of the introduction of two-legged games and the extraordinary events of the final 90 seconds ensuring it was unclear exactly who finished the game feeling better about yourself. chances of progress next Saturday night.

With things so finely laid, a real battle to claim a spot in the quarter-finals awaits.

TOULOUSE:T Ramos; J Mallia, Z Holmes, P Ahki, M Lebel: R Ntamack, A Dupont (cap); R Neti, P Mauvaka, D Aldegheri; Rory Arnold, E Meafou; R Elstadt, T Flament, F Cros.

Replacements: C Baille (for Neti, 49), C Faumuina, 49), Richie Arnold (for Meafou, 57), A Jelonch (for Elstadt, 57), A Placines (for Cros, 63), S Guitone (for Ahki, 67) G Cramont (for Placines, 67) M Page Rello (for Guitone, 74)

ULSTER: M Lowry; R Baloucoune, J Hume, S McCloskey, B Moxham; B Burns, J Cooney; E O’Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore; A O’Connor, I Henderson (cap); M Rea, N Timoney, D Vermeulen

Subs: R Lyttle (for Moxham, 10), T O’Toole (for Moore, 50), L Marshall (for McCloskey, 50), J Murphy (for Rea, 54), K Treadwell (for O’Connor, 54) , A Warwick (for O’Sullivan, 55), N Doak (for Cooney, 71), B Roberts (for Herring, 80)

REFEREE: Wayne Barnes

Featured man: Rob Baloucoune (ULS)