As expected, this was not a match for the faint-hearted with some shuddering hits going in from both sides as the teams were made to work mightily for every inch of territory in a defence-oriented game.
But while there was no lack of commitment on show, the importance of the occasion did seem to have an adverse affect on the skill levels of many players, with uncharacteristic errors from some household names - not least Tim Stimpson and Ronan O'Gara whose goal-kicking looked a little shaky in the early stages, the Leicester man missing with his first four shots at goal.
The close nature of the contest is demonstrated by the relative paucity of points on the scoreboard, O'Gara's penalty kick in the second minute the only score of a frantic first half. Stimpson missed a very ambitious penalty from 56 metres some six minutes later and then perhaps more surprisingly missed a second attempt from only 30 metres out after a Munster player came off his feet at a ruck just outside the visitors' 22.
Munster should have stretched their lead in the 18th minute after Leicester tighthead Darren Garforth was penalised at a scrummage in his own 22, but O'Gara missed the resulting penalty, the sort of kick he would normally kick with his eyes closed. With the visitors putting their hosts under some pressure in the set-piece, it was Munster who had the most scoring opportunties, most notably on one occasion in the last ten minutes of the first half when they forced an attacking lineout just five metres out from the Leicester tryline.
Hooker Frankie Sheahan found team-mate Alan Quinlan with a perfect throw and the men started their slow drive forward. Somehow Leicester held out, just stopping the drive and then when the ball was released to the Munster backs, forcing a penalty to enable them to clear their lines. Points were pretty hard to come by in the second half too, O'Gara stretching his side's slender lead to 6-0 in the 51st minute after Leicester wing Steve Booth made an ill-judged run from close to his own line and was penalised for holding onto the ball on the deck.
Leicester tried to make an immediate riposte, replacement back rower Adam Balding storming through the red ranks to generate some badly-needed forward momentum. However this promising incursion came to nought as fly-half Austin Healey launched a drop goal attempt that went flying to the left of the posts and then Stimpson missed his fourth successive penalty attempt in the 56th minute.
Then, suddenly, the Tigers got themselves right back into the match thanks to a moment of attacking brilliance from an Irishman, fullback Geordan Murphy pirouetting out of a an attempted tackle by Munster centre Rob Henderson before putting an inch-perfect pass to Booth, the wing sprinting over in the right-hand corner for a badly-needed try. Stimspon finally found his range to slot the conversion and Leicester found themselves 7-6 up.
Their lead was shortlived, however, as Munster struck back almost immediately down the other end, storming through the Leicester defence through some fine bullocking play from Marcus Horan before O'Gara was able to scramble over for his side's first try. With the fly-half converting his own try, Munster began to turn the screw on their illustrious opponents, exerting huge pressure in the scrums and lineouts and pegging the Tigers back into their own territory.
Another thrilling passage of play saw Munster craft their second, decisive score, Peter Stringer scoring on the left after a brilliant run by 2001 Lions centre Rob Henderson. O'Gara was again on target with the conversion to give his men a 20-7 lead.
While the Tigers threw everything into one last effort to hold onto their Heineken crown, they could match the spirit of Munster.
Final Score: Munster 20 Leicester 7
Tries: O'Gara, Stringer Cons: O'Gara Pens: O'Gara (2)
Tries: Booth Con: Stimpson Pens: Drop-goal:
J Staunton; J Kelly, M Mullins, R Henderson (J Holland 78), A Horgan; R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, F Sheahan, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell(M O'Driscoll, 89) , J Williams (capt), A Quinlan, A Foley
Replacements; S Kerr, J Blaney, M O'Driscoll, D Leamy, D Malone, Jason Holland, D Crotty
T Stimpson; G Murphy, L Lloyd, F Tuilagi(G Gelderbloom,83 ), S Booth; A Healey(S Vesty 67), T Tierney (H Ellis, 57); P Freshwater, D West(G Chuter, 83), D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), B Kay(J Krnofeld 61) , M Corry, N Back, W Johnson (A Balding 48)
Replacements; G Chuter, F Tournaire, J Kronfeld, A Balding, H Ellis, S Vesty, F Tuilagi
Heineken Cup Semi-Finals:
Toulouse v Munster SATURDAY, 26 APRIL (KICK-OFF 15:00 LOCAL TIME) Venue: La Stadium de Toulouse (36,000 capacity) Live TV coverage : FR2 , RTE, British Eurosport
Leinster v Perpignan SUNDAY, 27 APRIL (KICK-OFF 14:45 LOCAL TIME) Venue: Lansdowne Road (49,500 capacity) Live TV coverage: RTE, BBC