Sacked duo set for France switch

Sacked by Ulster Rugby and the IRFU, the two rugby stars acquitted of rape this month look likely to end up playing in France.

Over the weekend, it emerged that a number of French clubs are looking at the option of signing Paddy Jackson, with a number of offers on the table. His teammate Stuart Olding is also looking to France to relaunch his career.

The decision to revoke their Ulster Rugby contracts with immediate effect followed an internal review into their conduct.

Both players have expressed disappointment and regret at the move.

While Mr Jackson, 26, and Mr Olding, 25, were found not guilty last month after a high-profile trial, other aspects of their behaviour have been heavily criticised, with major sponsors of Ulster Rugby voicing concern.

The IRFU and Ulster Rugby review had focused on a series of sexually explicit WhatsApp conversations involving the players and their friends about the sexual encounter at the centre of the rape trial.

The messages, which referred to women in derogatory terms, were presented as evidence during the marathon nine-week trial at Belfast Crown Court.

The players’ departure was confirmed in a statement on Saturday morning.

Mr Jackson and Mr Olding had been accused of raping the same woman at a house party at Mr Jackson’s home in June 2016.

Last month, a jury found the players unanimously not guilty of rape after deliberating for three hours and 45 minutes. All jurors also acquitted Mr Jackson of sexual assault.

Mr Jackson said he was “deeply disappointed” with the outcome of the review.

“However, I recognise that my behaviour has fallen far short of the values expected of me as an international player, a role model for the game of rugby, and as a son and a brother,” he said.

“I am truly sorry.

“Since I was a young boy it was my ambition to play for Ulster and Ireland and I am extremely proud, privileged, and honoured to have done so. It is therefore with great sadness and regret but with many cherished memories that I leave that behind.

“I would like to thank everyone who has supported me throughout this process. I have taken great strength from that support.

“I’d also like to thank Ulster and Irish rugby for the opportunities that they provided for me and I wish them, and all my former team-mates, every success.

“My focus in the months and years ahead will be on rebuilding the trust placed in me by people throughout Ulster and Ireland.”

Mr Olding also expressed regret.

“I am very sorry this day has come to pass,” he said.

He said he would seek new challenges and did not bear any ill will.

“As I said outside court following my acquittal, I am and will always be fiercely proud of having played for my province and country,” said Mr Olding.

“I very much wished to continue to have the opportunity to represent them.

“Regrettably, influences outside of my contractual arrangement have made it impossible for that to happen.

“I said outside court that the Stuart Olding that you read about in the trial is not the real Stuart Olding.

“The treatment that I have received since my acquittal, both fair and unfair, has made me even more determined to prove myself.”

Two other men, Blane McIlroy, 26, and Rory Harrison, 25, were unanimously acquitted of lesser charges connected to the case.

Ireland and Ulster star Craig Gilroy, who was not involved in the trial, has been disciplined for sending one of the offensive messages that was outlined to the court.

He had already been made unavailable for selection and will now face a further two-week suspension.


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