Ireland back-row Alan Quinlan laid down a RBS 6 Nations marker with a ruthless display as Munster secured their Heineken Cup quarter-final spot with a hard-fought 12-9 win over Northampton.
The 35-year-old flanker won his personal battle against England rookie Courtney Lawes as 12 points from the boot of Ronan O’Gara was enough to down the Saints.
But while Ireland coach Declan Kidney will have been purring with delight watching Quinlan it was not a good night for his English counterpart Martin Johnson.
Shane Geraghty – dropped to the Saxons squad after an off-colour autumn - was off form with the boot while Chris Ashton and Ben Foden failed to recreate their Guinness Premiership heroics at Thomond Park.
Penalties from Bruce Reihana, Geraghty and Stephen Myler kept Saints in touch but they now face an anxious wait to see if they can grab one of the two best runners-up spots.
And Quinlan was in no doubt as to the secret behind their qualification – hard work.
“It’s testament to the work that goes on behinds the scenes that we’ve qualified again,” he said.
“Hard work has paid off. We’re pleased to have got through a very tough game, there were some hairy moments. Credit to them, they are a tough side.”