Munster must bewarethreat of pocket dynamo Teulet
HE is one of the smallest players in the professional game but Romain Teulet is not a man Munster can afford to treat lightly when they take on Castres this weekend.
The 5ft 4ins full-back/scrum-half has faced Munster five times in the Heineken Cup but, although only one of those meetings resulted in victory, the 33-year-old has made his presence felt, racking up 51 points against the Irishmen.
While never progressing higher than France A, Teulet is one of the most consistent figures in French rugby and a favourite among Castres fans.
Last weekend in the opener at the Scarlets, he shared scoring duties with fellow vertically challenged back three operator Marc Andreu, who crossed for a try to go with Teulet's three penalties and two conversions.
The other touchdown came from captain and ex-All Blacks flanker Chris Masoe and these three are set to be critical performers this weekend.
Scoring 23 points on the road in a competition where home advantage is so crucial should, ordinarily, be enough to secure victory or at least a losing bonus point, but Castres left Llanelli with neither.
That is bad news for Munster as it has fostered greater determination in the Castres ranks to prove a point in front of their own supporters, with the double Heineken Cup champions a notable scalp for a side that has only managed three victories in 10 previous meetings in this fixture.
Castres' first Heineken Cup match was the 19-12 home win over Munster way back in 1995/96, the first season of this tournament, and the links between the two sides extend to former Reds flanker Ken O'Connell.
Now involved in Munster's domestic games department, the story goes that O'Connell travelled to France acting as an agent for his London Irish buddy Jeremy Davidson in the late 1990s and ended up joining the second-row at Castres, although he did not feature in any matches against Munster.
Incidentally, another familiar name in the Castres squad is veteran Scotland second-row Scott Murray, who has faced Munster on four occasions in the Heineken Cup (twice for Saracens, twice for Montauban) but has yet to be on the winning side.
While Castres have demonstrated a less than enthusiastic attitude in Europe in the past, notably in 2005/06 when Muster cruised to 46-9 and 42-16 victories on their way to their first Heineken Cup title, there is no indication of any lessening of intensity for this clash.
Their domestic form, third in the table with seven wins from 10 matches, points to a side on an upward graph, although two of those reverses came in their last Top 14 outings, away to Bordeaux-Begles and at home to Racing Metro.
Castres see Munster as the perfect match to get back into the winning groove and have opted to stage the game in the 18,754-capacity Stade Ernest-Wallon in Toulouse rather than the intimate surroundings of their own 10,000-capacity Stade Pierre Antoine.
While the decision will generate extra revenue for the host side, it also allows a greater number of Munster supporters into the stadium.
From a Munster point of view, there might also be an advantage in not having to negotiate the poky, intimidating Pierre Antoine which can have a Sportsground-like unsettling effect -- as Leinster discovered in 2009.
After their epic victory over Northampton last weekend, Munster report no serious injury concerns beyond the normal bumps and bruises that are inevitable following a match of such intensity.
Loose-head Marcus Horan was a late withdrawal from the squad last weekend due to ankle injury, with John Ryan taking his place on the bench, but Munster are optimistic Horan will be available for the trip to France.