Where to begin?
There will be a lot of divided opinion this week on whether or not Owens was right. In fact, it’s possibly better to go back and look at the incident itself before we analyse whether the Welshman was correct in his assessment that Henderson’s clear out on Ronan O’Mahony was indeed dangerous and worthy of the red card he received.
Firstly, and one thing that will go against Iain, is the fact that the ball had already been won by Ulster – the ball was coming back for the home side and Ruan Pienaar was in close proximity to get the pass away. Of course, that does not stop Henderson coming in and making the clear out, he is perfectly entitled to do so since Pienaar has not yet picked up the ball and since O’Mahony is in the ruck, but when there is clean ball and no contest for it, it doesn't make much sense to wade in.
Secondly is the fact that O’Mahony is retreating – another point that may go against the flanker. In fact, when you go back and watch the incident it is questionable as to how much the winger is even affecting the ruck, it simply looks like he’s been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time before being walloped by the rampaging flanker. Similarly to how the ball was already won, it begs the question why Henderson would enter the ruck to clear out a player not affecting its outcome.
As for the connection, that’s anybody’s guess.
On first look, to me it did look like it was the forearm that Henderson led with and that it was it that connected with O’Mahony, but the more I now watch it back, the more I think there is a clash of heads between the two players. Of course that was not intentional and Henderson was by no means trying to decapitate a member of the opposition, but it makes for ugly viewing. You can see why Owens was well within his rights to go for red.
And I do not attribute to Stuart Barnes’ belief that Henderson lost his footing - or at least I don’t think it affects Henderson’s defence. Henderson runs in from a distance and is committed to clearing O’Mahony out – the only way he was stopping short of that ruck was if he tripped and fell on his face before he reached the melee. Once he reached the breakdown he was committed to whatever he had decided to do, in this case that being making sure O’Mahony was no longer in the ruck.
The main point that I would like to raise, however, is that this is the unfortunate culmination of a physical sport.
Is Henderson’s ruck entry wildly different to how other players enter the breakdown normally? No.
Is there a genuine risk of a clash of heads at every breakdown? Yes.
Is there a clash of heads at every breakdown? No.
What we have seen is a player being sent off for a perfectly legal clear out that unfortunately culminated in the two players banging heads, and sadly that has resulted in Henderson being shown a red card. I would put money on nothing being done whatsoever had Henderson hit O’Mahony in the chest or around the waist – once again, like in the Goode/Payne incident, the player lying on the ground has influenced the decision more than the incident itself.
My feeling is that the hearing should rescind the red card for the good of rugby. If a player is genuinely dangerous like Seremaia Bai was for Leicester on Saturday then by all means throw the book at them, but in cases like Henderson’s, accept it was an accident that unfortunately had a painful ending and move on. It will make no difference, Henderson will get a lengthy ban no doubt and will miss Ulster’s final two or three games in the Guinness Pro12 – a massive loss.
The draw hasn't helped Ulster either. Now needing a win in Glasgow, as well as either the Dragons to triumph in Cork or Connacht to overturn the Ospreys, to get a home semi-final it doesn't bode too well for Neil Doak’s men. It is more than doable of course, and Ulster will still have their momentum boost despite not getting all four points out last weekend’s encounter, but the outlook certainly seems a little bleaker than it was at 2:30 on Saturday. It looks likely we’ll be on the road for our semi-final, a position from which no side has ever won before.
Then again, records are there to be broken.