The Magners League enjoyed a superb weekend of European rugby as seven sides claimed impressive victories over foreign opposition.
Munster kicked off proceedings with a battling win over high-flying English outfit Northampton Saints at Thomond Park on Friday night.
The reigning Magners League Champions were made to work hard for a 12-9 victory over a Northampton side that had beaten Tony McGahan’s men at Franklin’s Gardens back in October.
Four penalties from veteran outside-half Ronan O’Gara saw Munster secure top spot in Pool 1 and the top seeding ahead of April’s Heineken Cup quarter finals.
Munster’s reward for five wins from six, including a December double over French Champions Perpignan, is another home tie with Northampton.
The Ospreys were next to fly the flag for the Magners League with a memorable win over Guinness Premiership leaders Leicester Tigers at the Liberty Stadium.
Scott Johnson’s side claimed a nail-biting 17-12 victory over the double European Champions to secure a last-eight spot as one of the two best runners up from the six European pools.
Ulster made it three wins from three for Magners League sides over English opponents when they triumphed 28-10 at Bath later on Saturday afternoon.
The visitors scored three tries through Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave and Paddy Wallace, with young fly-half Niall O’Connor adding 13 points with the boot.
Elsewhere in Pool 4, Edinburgh produced a third home victory of the European season as they downed French giants Stade Francais at Murrayfield.
Defeat to Ulster last weekend had already brought Edinburgh’s Heineken Cup campaign to a premature end but Rob Moffat’s men showed great character to finish on a real high.
Chris Paterson’s three penalties were enough to see off one of the continent’s most high-profile sides as Edinburgh reversed a heavy Parisian defeat last autumn.
On Saturday evening it was the turn of the Scarlets and Leinster to take centre stage as they both secured a quarter-final spot – Leinster in the Heineken Cup and the Scarlets in the second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup.
Defending European Champions Leinster grabbed an 11-11 draw against London Irish at Twickenham thanks to a late Jonathan Sexton drop goal.
Those two match points saw Brian O’Driscoll and co claim a home quarter-final against Clermont Auvergne, with only Munster, Biarritz and Toulouse finishing the group stages with a better overall record.
The Scarlets followed up last week’s stunning comeback win over London Irish with an equally impressive victory against Brive in France.
The Scarlets’ European chances appeared to be all but over after an hour of their Round 5 encounter with the Exiles on January 17 but the Welsh region fought back to record successive victories that have seen them surge into the knockout stages of the Challenge Cup.
Connacht ensured Magners League sides will be the top seeds in both European tournaments thanks to a 66-0 thrashing of Madrid in the Spanish capital.
That bonus-point win sees Connacht qualify as the only unbeaten side in either competition after home and away victories over Madrid, Worcester and Montpellier.
Cardiff Blues became the sixth Magners League side to ensure their European dream remains alive as they backed up last week’s defeat of Sale Sharks with a bonus-point win at Harlequins.
The Blues had wracked up four tries before half-time at The Stoop to qualify for the last eight of the Challenge Cup.
The only defeats for Magners League teams came on Sunday afternoon when Glasgow Warriors and Newport Gwent Dragons were beaten by French and English opposition respectively.
Magners League leaders Glasgow Warriors looked to be on their way to an outstanding victory at Biarritz before three late tries prevented a repeat of last season’s stunning triumph in Toulouse, while the Dragons lost out to Gloucester at Rodney Parade.
The final results of the pool stages mean Munster, Leinster and the Ospreys still have a chance of being crowned continental champions later this season, with Connacht, Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets looking for glory in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Heineken Cup quarter-final draw
Munster vs Northampton Saints
Biarritz vs Ospreys
Toulouse vs Stade Francais
Leinster vs Clermont Auvergne
Heineken Cup semi-final draw
Toulouse or Stade Francais vs Leinster or Clermont Auvergne
Biarritz or Ospreys vs Munster or Northampton Saints
Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final draw
Connacht vs Bourgoin
Toulon vs Scarlets
London Wasps vs Gloucester
Newcastle Falcons vs Cardiff Blues