A successful return to the Millennium stadium will have laid the ghost of last year's Heineken Cup final loss to Leicester.
Munster welcomed a crisp February day with a quick lead through a Ronan O'Gara 30 metres penalty after Neath failed to release the tackler following a stolen lineout by the Irish province and a midfield incision from fullback Jeremy Staunton. That lead was doubled on nine minutes with another penalty from O'Gara, this time from the left touchline. Mossie Lawlor invited a high tackle from James Storey and referee White was left with little option. Lee Jarvis, with just one international cap to his name, and O'Gara exchanged penalties to leave Munster 9-3 after a scrappy first fifteen minutes.
Persistent fouling at ruck situations by Neath, especially by wing-forward Alfie Mocelutu, led to another place kick success for O'Gara before the endof the first quarter. Another blow for Neath coach Lyn Jones came when hooker Barry Williams, went off with concussion,. That injury was evened out when O'Gara was forced off with an ankle injury on 25 minutes. Rob Henderson entered the fray and moved to the centre with Jason Holland switched to number ten.
Neath gradually came more into the game, eventually gaining a penalty close to Munster's line after good running from Shane Williams and Jarvis. Neath pummeled Munster left and right, but were continually drivensideways, a Jarvis drop goal all they had to show for their persistence.
But immediately after the restart, Jarvis, attempting to pin Munster down into their own 22', had his kick blocked down by Holland and Alan Quinlan gratefully accepted the ricochet to scamper home from allof forty metres. Staunton converted, Jarvis landed a penalty and but that score was cancelled out by an injury time Staunton reply to leave Munster 22-9 up at the break.
Neath were struggling at set piece phases and not just their own. A well-taken lineout was fed from Stringer along the line to Henderson on the 22'. The pack came in behind himfor a driving maul, which eventually collapsed under the posts with Marcus Horan the try scorer. Staunton grabbed the conversion for a 29-12 lead with under half and hour to go.
Henderson, who was playing for Munster again since injuring his arm in Gloucester in October, scored a try of hisown. A long lineout throw from Frank Sheahan saw Henderson cut through Neath's backrow and swerve outside a poorly placed Shane Williams to slide over for a well-deserved individual try on 56 minutes. Staunton failed with the touchline conversion but for Neath, it was a question now of game over. Both sides were reduced to 14 when Stringer and Storey were sin-binned and Staunton completed Munster's account with his fourth penalty in the closing srages. Stalwart Mick Galwey arrived on to a rapturous welcome and Neath, to their credit, scored a a consolation try in injury time when prop Adam Jonesdived over for the score after a series af furious attacks on the Munster line. Munster J Staunton; J Kelly, M Mullins, J Holland, M Lawlor; R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, F Sheahan, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, M O'Driscoll, J Williams, A Foley, A Quinlan. Replacements: R Henderson for O'Gara (26 mins), M Galwey for O'Callaghan (77 mins), J Blaney for Sheahan, M Cahill for Horan, D Leamy for Quinlan. K Keane for Holland, M Prendergast for Lawlor (all 79 mins).
Neath: A Durston; G Morris, J Storey, D Tiueti, S Williams; L Jarvis, A Moore; D Jones, B Williams, A Jones, A Newman, G Llewellyn (capt), A Mocelutu, N Bonner-Evans, B Sinkinson. Replacements: A Matthews for B Williams (19 mins), S Tandy for Mocelutu (62 mins), S Connor for Jarvis (78 mins).
Referee: C White (England).