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Pride on the line as Castres look to spoil Thomond party

Castres will not fulfil the archetypal image of French flounces in Thomond Park this Saturday now that their Heineken Cup hopes have all but been eviscerated.

While only the keenest of mathematical pedants can offer Castres any solace of qualification -- buy a lottery ticket as the remarkable sequence of results required are next to impossible -- joint coach Laurent Travers insists his Top 14 title-chasing squad will travel with pride.

"Firstly, it is an honour to play against Munster and a lot of teams do not get this privilege to play in Thomond Park," he says. "It will be a great adventure but also a great experience for the players.

"But we are in a difficult period of the season and we do have a few injuries to manage so we must also think beyond this game on Saturday."

Of course, Castres could have been more integrally involved in the qualification process had they not tossed away a winning position against Munster in round two, compounding the ill-fated decision to cede home advantage by pitching up in Toulouse.

"Yes, we would have liked to have played the role of spoilsports even more effectively in this pool," adds Travers. "If you think of it, we lost out on the bonus against Llanelli in the death throes and then it's a last-minute drop-goal that beats you against Munster.

"It's very frustrating. But we are learning and growing. And remember that on Saturday, Munster will have qualification on the line and it is win at all costs for them. So it could be a complicated game.

"Castres never play a game for nothing! Especially in the Heineken Cup. Of course the pressure will all be on Munster, not on us. On paper, the result may seem irrelevant to our team but what matters for me and for us is the content.

"It has important consequences for the rest of our season. We have legitimate regrets about our qualification hopes in this pool but, having said that, we were unfortunate to be placed in the pool of death."

Star wings Marc Andreu and Max Evans, for example, will be missing as Castres cast their eye towards the run-in for the French Top 14 play-offs, within which they are nicely slotted at fourth position.

Indeed, the main focus of the Castres coaches this week seems to have been on long-term recruitment, with wing Marcel Garvey set to join from Worcester, while they will also seek to tie down former All Black No 8 Chris Masoe to a long-term deal.

Andreu seems to be Toulon-bound next season despite Travers' and fellow joint-coach Laurent Labit's desperate pleas for him to stay, while Samoan Pat Perez is due to arrive imminently.

Irish Independent