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Saturday, 1 February, 2003, 14:40 GMT
Munster seize Celtic crown
Munster flanker Alan Quinlan won the man-of-the-match award
Alan Quinlan breaks away for Munster's opening try
Celtic League Final
Neath 17-37 Munster

Munster laid their cup final ghosts to rest at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday with a commanding 37-17 victory over Neath in the Celtic League final.

Last season the Irish province arrived in Cardiff for the Heineken Cup final, only for Leicester to keep their crown.

They had also lost last season's Celtic final against Irish rivals Leinster, but there was to be no such disappointment this time.

When O'Gara went off we had to alter our game plan

Munster skipper Jim Williams

Ireland stand-off Ronan O'Gara got Munster off to a solid start with four penalties in the opening quarter before he was forced off injured.

Then tries from Marcus Horan, Alan Quinlan and Rob Henderson, plus replacement kicker Jeremy Staunton's two conversions and two penalties, eased Munster to victory.

In reply Neath could only manage three penalties and a drop goal from Lee Jarvis, plus a consolation try in the fifth minute of stoppage time from prop Adam Jones.

"We started well, made a few mistakes and came back really well," Munster's Australian captain Jim Williams said.

"When O'Gara went off we had to alter our game plan, but I thought we would get a harder game today."

Under huge pressure from the start, Neath were forced to give away a string of penalties and O'Gara had struck four out of four kicks to give Munster a 12-3 lead in the first quarter.

Scoring details:
Munster (22) 37:
Tries:
Quinlan, Horan, Henderson.
Cons: Staunton 2.
Pens: O'Gara 4, Staunton 2.
Neath (9) 17:
Try:
A Jones.
Pens: Jarvis 3.
Drop goal: Jarvis.
Att: 30,076

Neath's lineout was struggling and wasn't helped by an early injury to hooker Barry Williams, who had to leave the field with a suspected broken jaw.

With Llanelli's Robin McBryde out of most of the Six Nations with a toe problem, Williams' injury will be a further blow to Wales coach Steve Hansen.

Munster also suffered an important casualty, with O'Gara having to limp off after a collision with Neath flanker brett Sinkinson.

However, Lions centre Henderson, out since October with a bicep injury, was a quality replacement, with Jason Holland moving inside to fly-half.

The streetwise Munster pack were able to slow down Neath ball, but Jarvis made the most of his possession with a successful drop-goal.

Neath's James Storey tackles Jeremy Staunton of Munster
Neath's opportunities were few and far between

Yet the Wales cap dawdled the next time he put boot to ball, his attempted clearance being charged down and falling into the arms of Quinlan.

The flanker, whose fine all-round performance won the man-of-the-match award, showed excellent pace to outstrip the despairing Jarvis to score under the posts.

Full-back Staunton, another of Munster's stand-out performers, took over the kicking duties and potted the conversion followed by a penalty.

Jarvis had managed to keep Neath in touch with two penalties either side of the break, but Munster effectively sealed the match in three second-half minutes.

Neath had no answer to an unstoppable rolling maul that shoved prop Horan under the posts for a converted try.

Then in the 56th minute Henderson picked up possession and cut back against the traffic, smashing his way through the Neath midfield and shoving Shane Williams away to score in the corner.

Despite there being more than a quarter of the match remaining, the Munster fans knew that their side's 34-12 lead was unassailable and launched into lusty renditions of Fields Of Athenry.

Staunton added a penalty as the match entered stoppage time, with Neath managing a consolation try through Adam Jones.


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, B Sinkinson, N Bonner-Evans.
Reps: A Bateman, S Connor, S Tandy, A Matthews, R Phillips, L Bateman, A Millward.

Munster: J Staunton; J Kelly, M Mullins, J Holland, M Lawlor; R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, F Sheahan, J Hayes, M O'Driscoll, D O'Callaghan, J Williams (capt), A Quinlan, A Foley.
Reps: J Blaney, M Cahill, M Galwey, D Leamy, M Prendergast, R Henderson, K Keane.

Referee: Chris White (England).

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Five Live's Robert Jones
"This was a comprehensive win"
Munster skipper Jim Williams
"It's great when you've got support like Munster"
Neath skipper Gareth Llewellyn
"We just conceded too many penalties"

The final

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