Belfast Telegraph

Ulster flanker Iain Henderson can return his focus to PRO12 title bid after his red card was rescinded

By Michael Sadlier

So, it all worked out fine in the end but who had actually expected this outcome? It seemed certain that Iain Henderson would face some form of censure but, instead, along came the hugely welcome announcement from the independent PRO12 Rugby Disciplinary Committee that the incident which led to Henderson being sent off last Saturday "did not warrant a red card".

While Ulster and the player were rightly delighted at what had occurred in Cardiff yesterday, which means that the 23-year-old is cleared and available to see out the season's drive towards maybe earning that elusive silverware, the whole thing seemed rather curious.

The PRO12 made no actual mention of the red card brandished by world class referee Nigel Owens, after consulting with TMO Kevin Beggs, being rescinded though it is assumed that it will be the case and that the incident will be wiped from Henderson's record.

The release regarding the decision also made mention of viewing the footage "close-up" and that the referee had been unable to do this while on the pitch and that it was from this that they were able to adjudge that Henderson had made initial contact withMunster's Ronan O'Mahony with his arm and not his head.

The statement from the all-Welsh disciplinary committee read: "Having viewed the incident in close-up (which the match referee had not been able to do at the time), the Disciplinary Committee concluded that the player's initial contact with his opponent had not in fact been with his head but with his arm."

With HawkEye technology supposed to have been deployed at Saturday's game, which gives the match officials extra angles to view footage, it again seems rather odd that Henderson's arm making contact with O'Mahony could not have been detected at the time.

As things transpired, Henderson was given his marching orders and Ulster's cause was seriously undermined in a game they badly needed to win in the chase for a home PRO12 semi-final.

Henderson and his team-mates were only trailing Munster 18-16 when he dived into that ruck and they quickly conceded a try shortly after his 73rd-minute dismissal. Yes, with 14-men they battled back to snatch the draw but, well, it makes you wonder doesn't it? Mind you, a yellow might well have come his way anyway which would have seen him gone for what remained.

Respected rugby commentator Stuart Barnes, who was behind the microphone during Sky Sports' coverage on Saturday afternoon, certainly reckons it all boils down to a bad call made by the man in the middle.

"I think (Henderson being cleared) it's an excellent decision. Nigel (Owens) is a good referee but I think that his call was a wrong one," said the former England international and Lions player.

"But having said that, it's good that the disciplinary board and the referee are big enough to say 'we made a mistake'. Mistakes happen. It's a big one but there is no such thing as perfection.

"It was massive," he added over the impact Henderson's removal made to Ulster's hopes of winning.

"You can't say for certain what would have happened in the game had he stayed on but it certainly seemed to swing the odds.

"The replay suggested it was a clumsy accident," said Barnes before going on to rate Henderson as a key player in their bid to win the PRO12.

"I think he's a big, big player for Ulster.

"He's like a Southern Hemisphere player and, though he isn't as tight as Peter O'Mahony (his opposite number last Saturday), his running lines and work-rate are outstanding.

"He adds that little bit extra. Will him being there win it for them? I think it's all too close to call though Ulster having to probably go away for their semi-final makes them underdogs but not necessarily long ones."

Former Ulster and Ireland captain Willie Anderson was delighted that "sense had prevailed" over the ruling releasing Henderson to be available to play this Saturday in Glasgow for the final regulation game before the play-offs.

"I thought it was a very, very harsh call," he said of the red card.

"It's not like Nigel (Owens) to get it wrong but what has happened is a great fillip for this weekend and what remains as he (Henderson) has been playing outstandingly well recently.

"He has huge potential and I think he will go on to play for the Lions as well as regularly starting for Ireland."

Now, Ulster just have to put this all behind them.

They have their player back and raring to go and potentially three games - and yes, it looks like an away semi-final - to deploy him before the season finally comes to a close at the Kingspan Stadium on May 30.

Will Ulster be there? Who knows, but at least they've got 'Hendy' back where they need him.

Belfast Telegraph

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