We’ve kept season alive: Hendy
After beating Connacht 18-10 at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday night, Ulster's Iain Henderson admitted that the province's season could have been over if not for the victory.
Pat Lam's westerners came to Belfast top of the PRO12 standings but tries from captain Rory Best and Craig Gilroy were enough to see Ulster do the double over their inter-pro rivals.
With only three rounds of league action remaining, Director of Rugby Les Kiss' weekend was improved further by losses for Scarlets and Munster as the race for play-off spots nears its conclusion.
With a weekend off to accommodate the European quarter-finals, Ulster now sit fifth and are back in action next Saturday against Zebre while the two teams directly above them, Scarlets and Glasgow, play each other.
With their top-four push in much ruder health than prior to Connacht's visit, Henderson said the players were well aware what was at stake on Friday night.
"All the players knew that we're already playing knock-out rugby," said the star flanker who has missed considerable time this season through injury. "If we hadn't have performed we'd have put our season in jeopardy. We had to get the win."
Having previously endured a run of three losses in four games that had placed their participation in the play-offs and even next season's Champions Cup in serious doubt, Henderson felt it was important to lift spirits and repay the faith of the fans.
"For any Ulster player to come out and play in front of the home fans in an inter-pro game is fantastic," he said.
"The fans really got behind us and we knew we had to perform for them. We've said that this is cup final rugby for us for the rest of the season.
"We needed to perform but we needed to go out and do something for the fans too.
"We needed to get their tails up and our tails up for the rest of the season so we can have the run-in we need."
After playing his second game since returning from a serious hamstring injury sustained in December, Henderson is feeling no ill effects from the lengthy time on the sidelines and enjoyed the feisty derby.
"I don't know why he took me off," joked Henderson regarding decision to replace him late on. "I feel fantastic."
Despite the victory, the 23-times capped international is still expecting a tough review of the game when the squad reconvene this week.
Ulster conceded 13 penalties, two more than their opposition, a week after tallying the same number in defeat to Glasgow.
"Every ref sees it differently," the 24-year-old reflected. "We gave away a few penalties that we shouldn't have and I'm sure we'll look at that. They gave away a fair few too. We need to make sure that we're more disciplined.
And while the forwards mauled their way over for one try - Best's in the first-half - they could not repeat the trick later in the game, even when their opponents were reduced to 13 men.
While securing a bonus point always looked a tall order, Henderson would have liked to have seen his side at least cross for a third score.
"It was frustrating not to go over for another try," he admitted. "But that's the way it goes. We'll look at them, why they didn't go over, what they did to defend us and we'll find the solutions."
The province must wait to find out the extent of injuries sustained by Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall.
With five minutes remaining, recent Ireland debutant McCloskey left with a shoulder problem.
Previously, Marshall had departed just after the hour after a heavy hit in midfield.
While Tommy Bowe and Wiehahn Herbst are thought to be close to a return, Ulster still have Dan Tuohy, Alan O'Connor and Nick Williams in the treatment room.
Weekend results: Scarlets 22 Cardiff 28, Treviso 16 Glasgow 38, Leinster 16 Munster 18, Dragons 20 Ospreys 26, Ulster 18 Connacht 10, Edinburgh 29 Zebre 0