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Munster's zeal to seal home quarter-final cheers McGahan

Munster coach Tony McGahan hailed his players' desire and belief after the province secured their spot in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup for a 12th straight season.

McGahan's side also clinched a home tie in the last eight by edging a nail-biting 12-9 win over a gritty Northampton side at Thomond Park.

Munster overcame the loss of captain Paul O'Connell to the sin-bin at the start of the final quarter and were forced to withstand almost constant Saints' pressure in the second period before recording a precious victory.

"The lads were excellent. I felt we showed some great desire and effort. They really showed how much it means to play for Munster," McGahan said. "We were under severe pressure at that stage in the second half. We kicked the ball out on the full. We had a few issues in the scrum and Paul O'Connell was off for 10 minutes.

"We worked extremely hard on the floor. We got turnover ball, were lucky enough to get it down field and then get three points.

"We always had belief. We have said many a time that we are always able to come back from any situation.

"I think Northampton are an excellent side, the real deal. They are well-coached and organised. They could be a real force in this competition."

Munster captain O'Connell agreed that the game had proved to be a battle of attrition and he was just happy to record a win.

"It was a good win. We did not play fabulously well. It was like a cup final out there. Very often the rugby isn't great," he admitted.

"Defensively both sides were so up for it. They are so well drilled.

"We were lucky Rog (Ronan O'Gara) put over the penalties. We are very happy to win that game. Northampton are an excellent side."

O'Connell added: "As for the sin-binning, the referee (Romain Poite) said it was a ruck, but I thought the ball was two feet off the ground. It can't be a ruck then."

Northampton remain in the race to reach the quarter-finals as a best runner-up after registering a losing bonus point. Their fate will be determined by results elsewhere over the weekend.

Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder was left to rue several missed opportunities. A penalty apiece from Bruce Reihana, Shane Geraghty and Stephen Myler were all the visitors had to show for their efforts, and Mallinder said: "On another day we could have won that game. I keep looking back and thinking about the series of scrums we had on their line."

Mallinder, the ex-Sale director of rugby, added: "I would love to qualify for the quarter-finals and if that gave us an opportunity to come back here (Thomond), then we would take it."