ULSTER head into the European Champions Cup Last 16, second leg against Toulouse at Kingspan Stadium this Saturday (8pm, live on BT Sport)with a 26-20 advantage having come through a thriller last weekend.

Robert Baloucoune scored a hat-trick against the French outfit that played 70 minutes of the game with 14 players after Juan Cruz Mallia was shown red for taking out Ben Moxham in the air with the Ulster player out of this week’s game due to concussion.

Ulster led by 13 and looked like they would take a decisive grip on the tie, but Romain Ntamack struck late to bring Toulouse within six points ahead of Saturday’s game in Belfast.

Dan McFarland’s charges know big challenges still lie ahead  and the job is far from done as they as they make their push for the quarter-finals where the winner will take on Munster or Exeter Chiefs.

“We’ve got such a big task at the moment, and we’re putting all our energy at the moment focusing on trying to achieve that,” said McFarland.

Toulouse are the current holders of the European Rugby Champions Cup, and also hold the record for winning the cup the most times, so they will be far from downhearted this weekend.

McFarland stated that when you have a strategy for playing against the best that works, you stick with it, but admitted they will have their eye out for small changes, as well as keeping their wits about them to ensure Ulster don’t get caught out if there is a change in Toulouse’s play.

“Teams will have a way that they play,” he stressed. 

“Teams won’t change the way they play a huge amount, because if you get to the stage you’re at now and have been successful, the more you change, the more you’ll have to practice to get those things right.

“We will change small things around our base play for example and improve in areas in our defence, but I would expect similar things. Toulouse have some really good starter plays and launch plays, so I can imagine they’ll be looking for similar kinds of plays this week, and a bit of variety from last week.”

For a number of years now, Ulster have been knocking on the door for honours but appear to have taken some big steps forward this season.

The Ulster coach is optimistic that a win against Toulouse could result in a big marker being set for the team, as well as bringing the opportunity to play the quarter-finals on home turf.

“We’ve been playing for trophies and titles for the last number of years,” he reflected. 

“We’ve been in finals, semi-finals, quarter-finals every year over the last four years. If we are to make it through to the quarter-final I think that would be a notable achievement. The next match will take all our focus to get through Toulouse this weekend.

“It’s a European knockout game with a home quarter-final at stake against a massive opposition. The emotion will be there. There’s something really special about European fixtures in Belfast.

“There is a lot at stake, and the opposition that comes here will be so good, and the opportunity to play really exciting rugby so it really captures that thrill that is possible in games like this.”

The Ulster coach also praised the level of talent coming through the team at the moment, and stipulated that the players are working hard, and ready for the challenge.

“The level of talent that is coming through is really good, they’re pushing themselves forward all the time, and they want to play for it,” he added.