IT’S SAFE TO say that Ulster’s Guinness Pro12 hopes would have taken a severe dent if yesterday’s disciplinary ruling on Iain Henderson had resulted in anything other than ‘Llama’ being ruled free to play immediately.
Bowe was freed up to score by a sensational Henderson offload. Source: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO
It’s understood Ulster presented the Welsh disciplinary committee with footage of a number of similar and unpunished incidents to that for which he was red carded last weekend against Munster in their defence of Henderson, who was finally adjudged to have led with his arm rather than his head.
Whatever about the means to this end, it’s an utter relief for Ulster coach Neil Doak. Henderson has been a wrecking ball in recent times and as the province target the Kingspan Stadium final, he will continue to be vital.
“It’s fantastic news,” said Ulster wing Tommy Bowe at last night’s IRUPA awards. “Iain has shown the form we know of him in the last few weeks, he’s been playing out of his skin. To have him available for the next couple of weeks is going to be massive for Ulster.
As competition for World Cup places continues apace, Henderson is clearly marking himself out as a man who will be on the plane to Wales in September, but also as a player who almost needs to be accommodated in the starting team.
It’s difficult to see Schmidt opting against having Devin Toner or Peter O’Mahony in his XV come the biggest games of the World Cup, though Henderson is doing everything in his formidable power to convince the Kiwi.
The blindside flanker, who is also highly effective in the second row, was masterful again last weekend as Ulster hosted Munster in Belfast, setting up Bowe for a wonderful first-half try with a divine offload.
“I think he’s just shown that he’s got it all really,” said Bowe. “To see his offload for myself, but more so his work around the breakdown, his ball carrying.
Henderson is just one part of the Ulster machine targeting a first league success since 2005/06 under Mark McCall.
Final and semi-final defeats in recent seasons have been frustrating for a group of players desperate to lift silverware. That the final is to be held at Kingspan Stadium lends Ulster a sense that their time has come.
“This is the season,” said Bowe. “Knowing that we’re going to have that home final is massive for us. We made it difficult for ourselves to get that home semi-final, but home or away we’ll feel confident that we’ll be able to win the play-off and get into that final.”
Pressure off, O’Brien feels Leinster can ‘go out and just play’ this weekendIreland Women still calling on newcomers to rugby with a World Cup in view