London (AFP) – Fly-half Paddy Jackson is unlikely to play for Ireland again after he and team-mate Stuart Olding were sacked despite being cleared in a rape trial, the Ulster chief executive said.
Jackson, 26, and centre Olding, 25, had their contracts with Ulster and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) terminated after an internal review following their acquittal.
The players were found not guilty of raping the same woman in June 2016. Jackson was also unanimously acquitted of sexual assault.
The high-profile trial, which ran for nine weeks at Belfast Crown Court, brought to light a number of sexually explicit and offensive text exchanges that sparked a wave of protest on social media and on the streets.
Before the trial Jackson had been the stand-in for Irish number one fly-half Johnny Sexton but Ulster chief executive Shane Logan said he did not believe Jackson would add to the 25 caps he had won. Olding has four caps.
“The position is joint. It’s a joint Irish and Ulster rugby position… The statement is clear and it is not something that we are contemplating,” Logan told the BBC when asked about the pair’s chances of either playing for the province or Ireland again.
Logan, who refused to reveal whether there had been a financial settlement agreed with the players, denied the IRFU had caved in to pressure on social media or that the decision was motivated by money.
“No sponsor including Bank of Ireland drove the decision,” he told Britain’s Press Association.
“We have taken on board everybody’s views right across society, right across our supporter group, our sponsor group, our players, clubs, volunteers, we are part of society.
“But at the end of the day, having looked at all those things, the decision was based on alignment with what it is we stand for, in particular the value of respect.
“The players themselves admitted in their own statements that they were way short of what was expected of them.”
– ‘Great deal of sadness’ –
Meanwhile a statement released on behalf of the Ulster squad later Tuesday expressed “sadness” at the departure of former team-mates Jackson and Olding.
“It is with a great deal of sadness that the players and pro staff have learnt of this outcome,” said Rob Herring, the back-up hooker at Ulster behind Ireland captain Rory Best, as he read out a statement.
“We know that the two boys will be successful both on and off the pitch wherever they go.
“As a group, we have to move on and our full focus is now on Glasgow this weekend,” added Herring, who has been capped three times by Ireland.
Herring read out a statement at a media event ahead of Ulster’s Pro 14 match against Glasgow which barred news reporters after a previous pre-match press conference had been dominated by the fall-out from the trial of Jackson and Olding.
Audio of Herring’s statement to sports reporters at Belfast’s Kingspan Stadium was then distributed more widely.