Ulster coach Neil Doak reflects on poor discipline record
Ulster head coach Neil Doak feels there is a strong case for the defence when star flanker Iain Henderson faces a PRO12 disciplinary committee today.
The 23-year-old was shown a red card by referee Nigel Owens for leading with his head when entering a ruck against Munster at the Kingspan on Saturday.
The decision, which came with only seven minutes of the game remaining, put Ulster on the back foot in a contest that they ultimately drew 23-23 thanks to a last-gasp converted try by Paul Marshall.
According to World Rugby law 10.4, striking with the head carries a lower-end suspension of four weeks, although any ban could be reduced by as much as half in light of Henderson's past conduct.
A suspension of more than three weeks would continue into next season and potentially see the 17-times capped international miss some of Ireland's World Cup warm-up matches in August while also ruling him out of the final day league clash with Glasgow this weekend and the PRO12 play-offs.
On today's hearing, Doak said: "We've got a few avenues that we want to put across but ultimately they'll make a decision and we've got to get on with it and see what happens.
"The breakdown is a pretty highly contested area, especially in the northern hemisphere, and there were a few incidents over the weekend where players were cleaning out.
"I thought it was quite difficult to see on the big screen where contact was made and obviously we'll have to see what the committee comes up with."
Leicester's Seremaia Bai was also shown red on Saturday in the Tigers' crucial Premiership game with Wasps after a lengthy consultation between Wayne Barnes and his TMO and Doak, citing the disparity in severity of the two incidents, highlighted the importance of interpretation while also hinting that any stern punishment would be appealed.
"Ultimately we have to see what comes up and make our judgments accordingly," he said.
"It'll be interesting to see what the committee's attitude on it is. I know Wayne Barnes had a look at Seremaia Bai's and initially said it was a yellow card.
"I don't think Hendy's was anywhere near as robust as that entry into the breakdown so we have to see what they say and if they feel that it's a lengthy ban we'll make our judgment calls accordingly."
Irrespective of the outcome of today's proceedings, the incident is another disciplinary matter for Ulster to deal with after previous red cards this season for Declan Fitzpatrick and Stuart McCloskey as well as citings for Alan O'Connor, Roger Wilson, Luke Marshall and Nick Williams.
While defending his players, Doak also stressed that the squad must not give referees the chance to dish out penalties at such critical junctures.
"We're disappointed with the decision because ultimately it turned the game for us," Doak added. "From a pretty decent attacking position, all of a sudden we're down to 14 men and a couple of minutes later they score.
"We've got to make sure that we don't give the referees opportunities to penalise us. I don't think Hendy was showing any malice but ultimately we've got to be careful.
"We've talked about it and the players are aware that we've got to be more disciplined. It went against us on Saturday and that was disappointing.
"We were getting into the game and putting them under a bit of pressure and if, with five or six minutes to go we were to get ahead, it would have given us a good opportunity to see the game out."
With or without Henderson, Ulster must beat Glasgow on Saturday and hope that either Munster or Ospreys slip up if they are to host a PRO12 semi-final the following weekend.