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Saturday, 1 February, 2003, 18:21 GMT
Munster's method men
The Celtic League final
BBC Sport Interactive's Sean Davies considers the attributes that took the Irish province to Celtic League success.

It was not a day for the romantic at the Millennium Stadium.

The scene was set for Welsh club rugby to make one last, glorious stand.

Beset on all sides by reformers and cost-cutters, Neath were supposed to come out fighting, prove the doubters wrong, show the pride in the Welsh game.

But modern, professional rugby rarely allows for dreams - as Munster have found to their cost in previous Celtic League and Heineken Cup finals.

They look like they all go out with a list of statistics and aren't happy until they've reached their totals

Neath coach Lyn Jones
This, at last, was the day for the men in red, and how their supporters celebrated. But for all the colour brought by their fans, the on-field tactics were designed to keep the unexpected to a minimum.

It was a victory for pragmatism, work rate, organisation - and cold, hard numbers.

Neath coach Lyn Jones knew what to expect before the match.

"They just don't make mistakes," he said of the opposition. "They're a true team - a powerful team.

"They look like they all go out with a list of statistics and aren't happy until they've reached their totals.

"It's almost playing by numbers, but it's bloody effective."

Numbers. Statistics. They can tell a lot. Like the fact that on their route to the final Neath had not beaten a single non-Welsh club.

There were impressive victories along the way, at home to Llanelli and away to Pontypridd in the quarters.

This was not the mad Munster men of legend, playing with wild abandon and thriving in the resultant chaos

But home to Munster and away at Ulster and Edinburgh the All Blacks had been found wanting.

Munster's only losses had been away at Ulster and Edinburgh and they had won all five games against Welsh clubs. The stats were not looking good for Neath.

Jones himself is one of the leading advocates of provincial rugby for Wales, and on the day it was not hard to see why.

Where were the fans to cheer on what could have been Neath's last, great day?

The travelling Irish were in the majority, and the reams of empty seats at the Millennium Stadium contrasted painfully with Lansdowne Road last year, packed to the rafters for Leinster-Munster.

Then there were squad numbers. When Barry Williams was forced to leave the field early, on came untried 23-year-old hooker Adam Matthews. Neath proceeded to lose nearly all their own line-out ball.

When Ronan O'Gara was forced off for Munster, returning Lion Rob Henderson took the field and immediately thrust himself into the heart of the action.

From the start the Irish harried, chased, pressured. But this was not the mad Munster men of legend, playing with wild abandon and thriving in the resultant chaos.

Everything was done with a clean, professional edge. Play the percentages and - above all - don't make mistakes.

Don't be fooled by the unforgettable scenes of a fortnight ago where Munster beat all the odds to dump Gloucester from the Heineken Cup.

There was calculation in their gambles on that day, too. Early penalty goals were no good - they needed tries and it was all or nothing.

How did Munster achieve such a comprehensive win in Cardiff? Ruthless kicking from O'Gara and Staunton, a charged-down grubber for Quinlan's try and a forward rumble that dropped prop Marcus Horan under the posts.

When Neath were mauled and broken it was time for the show. Rob Henderson burst through some powder-puff tackling for the eye-catching score that will keep the fans happy, but that was mere window dressing.

The spirit and heart shown by the side is doubted by none. But don't believe those attributes come from the souls of dreamers.


The final

SEASON STATS

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TALKING RUGBY
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