Wiehahn Herbst preparing for Toulouse backlash on Sunday
European Champions Cup Pool One: Toulouse v Ulster
(Sunday, 1pm, Stade Ernest Wallon, live on Sky Sports 3)
THE cheers that met the final whistle last Friday night had barely cooled when Ulster began contemplating the backlash they would face this Sunday.
Les Kiss’ camp will have to have been almost wrestled down from the clouds following their stunning 38-0 win over Toulouse. The French side, however, will have stewed for eight days over the humiliation of being kept scoreless for the first time in their illustrious European history.
As a result, even in spite of that victory, Ulster travel to the south of France as underdogs once more, certain to face an entirely different Toulouse. They already know they will face a very different side on paper. Their head coach Ugo Mola has made no fewer than nine changes for the return clash.
The arm injury that forced Louis Picamoles off during the first-half last week has recovered sufficiently to allow him to take a spot on the replacements bench. In Imanol Harinordoquy, they have a vastly experienced replacement. He joins Yacouba Camara and Thierry Dusautoir, who keep their places in the back row, but of the rest of the forwards, only Yoann Maestri and Census Johnston are retained.
The back division is chopped up just as much. Centre Gael Fickou and scrum-half Sebastian Bézy are the only two in whom Mola has kept faith. Jean-Marc Doussain comes in at fly-half, with Florian Fritz deposing Toby Flood, whose two missed first-half kicks might have put a totally different early complexion on last week’s Kingspan clash had he landed them.
Luke McAlister, Arthur Bonneval, Vincent Clerc and Clément Poitreneaud all drop out - only the latter of them even among the replacements - with Timoci Matanavou, Semi Kunatani and Alex Palisson all set to start.
Unsurprisingly, there is little alteration to the Ulster side. The absence of Chris Henry is semi-enforced, with Kiss opting not to take a risk on a slight shoulder injury in light of the busy calendar ahead. Nick Williams is demoted to the bench. He was the first of five try-scorers last weekend, but picked up a needless yellow card just before half-time that, fortunately for Ulster, went unpunished by an indisciplined Toulouse.
When Ulster prop Wiehahn Werbst spoke to the media earlier in the week, Friday night had long been put in the memory box, but the South African said it was a night he would remember for a long time.
“It’s really special, especially on a Friday night here at the Kingspan, there’s a great atmosphere and getting the crowd behind you, a result like that is one that you’ll remember forever,” he said.
Admitting his wildest dreams wouldn’t have countenanced a 38-0 whitewash, the 27-year-old Springbox is readying himself for a very different encounter at the Stade Ernest Wallon.
“The focus has just been on bettering our performance and focusing on us. We know the weekend past was a great result, but we’re not thinking of that any more, it’s in the past. It’s a new challenge. We’re going to their home turf and they’re going to be much better there. We have to prepare for that again.
”Of course, it was a great result for us as a team. Personally, I didn’t think we’d beat them that well, but it’s a great result for Ulster and the fans. But like I say, we’re not getting stuck on that, it’s in the past and we focus on a new week.”
Ulster’s first-half display last week wasn’t on the level of their second period. The fact that Toulouse were so poor had as much to do with the 17-0 interval lead the Ulster men carried into the break. They sensed that the four-time European champions were there for the taking and pummelled them in the second-half, but Herbst insists there were elements of the performance that need to improve.
“We weren’t perfect at all, so we still had a lot to work on this week. They did have some good drives in the game. Their set piece will be good this weekend, especially in their home town," he added.
“Our gameplan, our total game has evolved nicely. We’ve got some good decision makers that call it on the field so everyone knows what they’re doing. The coaching staff have been great and they’re putting a lot of time and effort in. Everyone knows their roles and what they have to do, so hopefully it pays off.”
Victory for Ulster would leave them in a great position, but the very least they will be aiming for is a losing bonus point. To earn that, they must be ready for an onslaught.
Toulouse: A Palisson; S Kunatani, G Fickou, F Fritz, T Matanavou; JM Doussain, S Bezy; C Baille, J Marchand, C Johnston; G Lamboley, Y Maestri; Y Camara, I Harinordoquy, T Dusautoir; Replacements: C Tolofua, G Steenkamp, G Muller, J Tekori, L Picamole, G Galan, D Mele, C Poitrenaud
Ulster: L Ludik; A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; K McCall, R Best, W Herbst; A O’Connor, F van der Merwe; R Diack, R Wilson, S Reidy; Replacements: R Herring, A Warwick, R Lutton, L Stevenson, N Williams, P Marshall, I Humphreys, R Scholes