WASPS 24 MUNSTER 23, Ricoh Arena (Att: 21,506)
Scorers: Wasps: Riki Flutey, George Skivington; Con: Danny Cipriani; Pens: Danny Cipriani 4
Munster: Tries: Rua Tipoki, Shaun Payne; Cons: Ronan O'Gara 2; Pens: Ronan O'Gara 3
Wasps trailed 13-3, and then 23-13, but the Londoners twice wiped out those ominous deficits. Young England hopeful Danny Cipriani guided them home, underlining his major selection credentials for this season's Six Nations tournament.
The 20-year-old Cipriani, entrusted with the out-half duties, kicked 14 points and often looked the coolest customer on view during a red-hot clash between two mighty teams. Centre Riki Flutey and lock George Skivington scored tries in each half for Wasps, denying a Munster side desperate to become top dogs in Europe once again.
Cipriani's opposite number Ronan O'Gara put his World Cup woes behind him at the Coventry venue to deliver an assured tactical display. But his 13-point haul, which included conversions of first half touchdowns from centre Rua Tipoki and full-back Shaun Payne - was not enough to buckle Wasps' resistance.
Having been drawn in this season's so-called 'Pool of Death', Wasps knew they could not afford to slip up at 'home' on the opening weekend. With French challengers Clermont Auvergne and seasoned Welsh contenders Llanelli Scarlets also drawn in Pool 5, any prospect of defeat against Munster would have left them facing a fight for survival.
Wasps boss Ian McGeechan, making maximum use of his replacements' bench, took off captain Lawrence Dallaglio after 52 minutes, but the Londoners had just enough in the tank to prevail, even if they could not deny Munster a losing bonus point.
Wasps launched their European title defence without injured England World Cup trio Phil Vickery, Josh Lewsey and Joe Worsley, while Ireland lock Paul O'Connell (back strain) missed Munster's tournament opener.
Munster were skippered by O'Gara in the absence of O'Connell, with Dallaglio leading a Wasps side that included England lock Simon Shaw and France hooker Raphael Ibanez for their first club starts this season.
Wasps, having moved the game from their usual Adams Park home in High Wycombe, struggled to settle as O'Gara - who has scored more Heineken Cup points than any other player - slotted two close range penalties either side of a successful Cipriani strike.
Flanker James Haskell's 17th-minute burst briefly troubled Munster, but the Irish side underlined their opening quarter dominance by carving open Wasps' much-vaunted defence. Centre Lifeimi Mafi, who had repeatedly troubled Wasps, made another incisive break and his pass sent midfield partner Tipoki sprinting over unopposed.
O'Gara slotted the simple conversion, hoisting Munster 10 points clear, before Wasps were denied a Cipriani try when referee Malcolm Changleng ruled winger Paul Sackey try-scoring pass had drifted forward.
It appeared a marginal call by the Scottish official, but Wasps knew they had to respond before half-time and their comeback was the stuff of champions as they plundered 10 unanswered points in two minutes.
Munster had no answer as Cipriani kicked his second penalty, then converted a Flutey try after the New Zealand capitalised on a blunder from Anthony Horgan under a kick to sprint over from 50 metres. Things could have have got even worse for Munster as the interval approached, with Wasps laying siege to their line.
Cipriani caught their defence napping when he ran a penalty 15 metres from the Munster posts, but Sackey failed to ground the ball, a scenario television match official Andy Ireland confirmed after lengthy deliberation.
Munster had no intention of lying down though, and they ended a pulsating half as they started it - on top. The visitors' back row trio all tried to rampage their way over Wasps' line, but a sublime kick into space by O'Gara unlocked the home defence and Payne gathered a kind bounce to score to the left of the posts.
O'Gara added the touchline conversion, sending Munster into the dressing rooms 20-13 ahead. O'Gara and Cipriani exchanged early second half penalties before the impressively-assured Cipriani landed another three-pointer when Munster prop Marcus Horan was sin-binned for a technical infringement.
It meant Wasps were just four points adrift entering the closing quarter, and they quickly moved in front for the first time thanks to incisive running from Flutey and winger Tom Voyce.
Although Voyce was hauled down short of the line, Skivington's lung-busting efforts in support were rewarded when he powered over for a stunning try. Cipriani missed the conversion, yet Wasps got there in the end after another of those edge of the seat Heineken Cup encounters. More of the same is promised at Thomond Park next Sunday when Munster host French darkhorses Clermont Auvergne.
WASPS: Mark Van Gisbergen; Paul Sackey, Fraser Waters, Riki Flutey, Tom Voyce; Danny Cipriani, Eoin Reddan; Tim Payne, Raphael Ibanez, Nick Adams, Simon Shaw, George Skivington, Dan Haskell, Tom Rees, Lawrence Dallaglio (capt).
Replacements used: John Hart for Dallaglio (52 mins), Michael Holford for Payne (65), Joe Ward for Adams (71), Dan Leo for Holford (77). Not used: Richard Birkett, Simon Amor, Rob Hoadley.
MUNSTER: Shaun Payne; Brian Carney, Rua Tipoki, Lifeimi Mafi, Anthony Horgan; Ronan O'Gara (capt), Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Mick O'Driscoll, Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.
Replacements used: Tony Buckley for Hayes (37 mins), Jake Paringatai for Horan, Anthony Foley for Buckley (both 77), Tomas O'Leary for Payne (79). Not used: Frankie Sheahan, Paul Warwick, Kieran Lewis.
Sin Bin: Horan (Munster) (54 mins)
Referee: Malcolm Changleng (Scotland)