Henderson cleared for title run-in as red card is overturned
Ulster's quest for a home semi-final and ultimate Pro12 glory has been boosted by the availability of Irish flanker Iain Henderson after a disciplinary committee ruled he should not have been sent off against Munster last weekend.
Henderson is now free to play in Ulster's final regular-season clash in Glasgow this weekend, the following week's semi-final and, should they reach it, a final in Belfast at the end of the month.
The decision has also removed any doubts about his availability for Ireland's World Cup warm-up campaign as a lengthy ban could have ruled him out for several months.
Henderson appeared before an independent Pro12 disciplinary committee in Cardiff to defend the red card received for striking Ronan O'Mahony with his head in the 73rd minute of the Belfast derby match.
Chaired by Roger Morris, along with Rhian Williams and Ray Wilton (all from Wales), the committee viewed the footage of the incident and listened to representations by and on behalf of Henderson, before deciding that the act did not warrant a red card.
The panel viewed the incident in close-up (which the match referee had not been able to do at the time) and concluded that the player's initial contact with his opponent had not in fact been with his head, but with his arm.
As a result, no sanction has been imposed on the player, who is free to resume playing immediately; the committee clearly felt the referee may not have made the correct call, but only on limited video evidence.
Neither Owens nor his TMO Kevin Beggs had access to different angles provided by Sky Sports, who broadcast the game, and this was provided the main plank of Ulster's defence.
"There was no malice on Iain's part and certainly he did not intentionally clear anybody out with the head as was claimed by the referee," said Ulster coach Neil Doak ahead of the hearing.
"We have a few bits and pieces we're looking at in defence of that."
Also in Cardiff, Eduardo Gori did not escape sanction following his dangerous tackle on Gordon D'Arcy during his Treviso side's defeat to Leinster in the RDS.
The panel deemed Gori's actions to have been reckless rather than intentional, at the lower end of World Rugby's range of sanctions, and thereby imposed a three-week suspension.
He is now ruled out of the final Pro12 match of the season, together with two of Italy's summer international matches prior to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.