Ulster put in an outstanding performance as they hammered Toulouse 38-0 in their Champions Cup pool clash at Ravenhill on Friday.
Tries from Nick Williams, Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey and Chris Henry saw the Irishmen romp home in their best display of the season so far.
The star man was scrum-half Ruan Pienaar, who directed his men around the pitch with aplomb. But there were superb performances everywhere from the Belfast side, with Williams, Trimble and Paddy Jackson all absolutely outstanding.
Jackson contributed four conversions and a penalty to the effort, with substitute Ian Humphreys also bagging a late conversion.
Toulouse looked shell shocked throughout and the Top 14 side could not get close to the intensity or precision of the Irish side, who dominated the contest from start to finish. It was an inglorious evening for one of European rugby’s flagship teams, but Ulster will be thrilled with a fine win that keeps their European odyssey alive and kicking.
The four time European champions started edgily, with former All Black Luke McAlister kicking out on the full on five minutes.
It was Ulster who looked more dangerous in the early exchanges, McCloskey and Williams acting as battering rams. It was all the men in white at this stage, with the Irish side showing an impressive array of patterns.
Toulouse dug in well, however, and Flood had a good chance to open his team's account on 14 minutes when Louis Ludik was penalised for not releasing, but his effort was wide by some distance.
The hosts were certainly looking the more fluid, but their accuracy let them down at crucial times. The pressure eventually told on 22 minutes. Williams took a lovely pop pass from Robbie Diack in the Toulouse 22, and the massive number eight could not be stopped from five metres out. Jackson easily converted to send the Irishmen into a deserved 7-0 lead.
Ulster's pressure game was yielding high dividends and although the Toulouse defence was coping, the French kingpins were undoubtedly rattled.
Jackson added another three points for the hosts shortly after when Sebastien Bezy was sin-binned for cynically killing the ball.
Flood had a great chance to reduce the deficit on 32 minutes, but the English centre was again off target with his attempt.
The hosts weren't having it all their own way, though, and Williams was sent to the bin on 36 minutes when Wayne Barnes deemed an aggressive clear out at a ruck to be reckless. On second viewing, the incident looked innocuous enough but the big number eight led with his shoulder and can have no real complaints.
The hosts seized control of the game in emphatic fashion just before half-time. Trimble took a tricky pass from Pienaar and still with a lot to do, the wing chipped over a Toulouse defender, before gathering his own kick beautifully to score under the posts. To make matters worse for the Frenchmen, Toulouse blindside Yacouba Camara was yellow carded for tripping Pienaar at the previous breakdown, and Jackson converted to give Ulster a 17-0 interval lead.
And it was Ulster who started the second-half better, pounding the Toulouse defence quite ferociously.
The Irishmen got on the scoresheet again on 45 minutes when Pienaar spotted a gap out wide, put in an audacious cross-field kick that was gratefully gathered by the unmarked Marshall to touch down. Even by the South African's exalted standards, this was superb pin point accuracy. Jackson converted to make it 24-0.
And the bonus point was wrapped up with over 25 minutes remaining when McCloskey took the ball at pace from Jackson and powered over the whitewash. Jackson converted to make it 31-0.
Toulouse rallied somewhat in the last quarter and Ulster's momentum was arrested by a plethora of substitutions. But the Irish province still looked the more ambitious, and scored a fifth try when Henry found himself at the bottom of a superb driving maul. Replacement Humphreys converted to make it 38-0. It was game, set, and match to Ulster.
Tries: Williams, Trimble, L Marshall, McCloskey, Henry
Con: Jackson 4, Humphreys
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Craig Gilroy; 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Alan O'Connor, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Kyle McCall.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Clive Ross, 20 Roger Wilson, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Rory Scholes.
Toulouse: 15 Clément Poitrenaud, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Toby Flood, 11 Arthur Bonneval, 10 Luke McAlister, 9 Sébastien Bézy, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Joe Tekori, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Vasil Kakovin.
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Edwin Maka, 20 Gregory Lamboley, 21 Gillian Galan, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Alexis Palisson.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth (England), Paul Dix (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
by Rory McGimpsey