But this Thomond Park clash was swung in Munster's favour by a Ronan O'Gara penalty and Howlett's second try of the night.
It was a steady start from both sides, Chris Paterson and O'Gara trading early penalty goals after two ruck infringements near the 22s.
Munster stepped up their efforts in the scrum, a facet of the game they struggled with in their surprise defeat to Benetton Treviso last Sunday.
They used the set piece to crank up the pressure in the visitors' 22 and although Edinburgh initially held out, Peter Stringer's pass wide to the right put Buckley squeezing over in the corner.
Buckley, who is off to Sale Sharks in the summer, used his considerable frame to barge over past Tim Visser, with television match official Brian Fitzgerald confirming the grounding.
O'Gara missed the conversion and Paterson was able to close the gap to 8-6 after a ruck offence from Tommy O'Donnell. The Edinburgh pack gained ground with a forceful maul, and a swift counter attack set up their first try.
Denis Hurley popped up on some strong runs for Munster, but it was Edinburgh wingers Visser and Lee Jones who spearheaded the break which led to Cross' score.
Ben Cairns' chip over halfway was seized upon by Visser and Jones was fed for a powerful run on the right. Edinburgh maintained possession and worked it in the middle where their forwards gained ground and Cross was driven over by the posts.
Paterson added the extras for a 13-8 scoreline and Edinburgh went close to scoring again, three minutes later, when Fraser McKenzie's high pass was fumbled by Visser in the left corner. Laidlaw also missed a long range penalty.
It was left to Munster to respond in injury-time. Lifeimi Mafi cut Edinburgh's defence open with a barnstorming break, passing for the supporting Howlett to evade Visser's grasp and make the right corner despite the best efforts of Laidlaw.
O'Gara's missed conversion left the sides tied for the break. Then, the Munster out-half opened the scoring in the second half with a neatly-taken penalty.
Scoring chances were few and far between in a closely-fought final 40 minutes. Laidlaw did well to ground a grubber kick from O'Gara as Munster probed for their third try.
The crucial moment came 14 minutes from the end. Munster, who brought on Marcus Horan and Denis Fogarty after long injury lay-offs, followed up on another muscular midfield thrust from Mafi as Johne Murphy laid off for Howlett to score to the left of the posts.
O'Gara converted for a 10-point advantage and Edinburgh were kept at arm's reach for the remainder as they fell to their fifth straight defeat in all competitions.
Speaking afterwards, Munster number 8 James Coughlan, who claimed the man-of-the-match award, said: "Our set piece in general was good and overall we're pleased with that.
"We didn't become bad scummagers overnight so we knew that performance was in us. It was good to get the win and get back on the horse, so to speak.
"We're at the top of the league but we just need to keep on winning and we'll look to our next game against Aironi on Sunday now."
|Munster Rugby Score Card|
|Edinburgh Rugby Score Card|