IRFU performance director David Nucifora has not ruled out a return to the Ireland team for sacked internationals Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, should they return home to play for a province in the future.

Jackson and Olding had each been cleared of rape charges in unanimous verdicts at the end of a 42-day trial at Belfast’s Laganside courthouse in March.

Both men had denied raping the same woman in Mr Jackson’s house in the early hours of June 28, 2016, but their reputations were damaged by the introduction of a number of WhatsApp messages, involving explicit sexual language, into the court case as evidence.

That provoked a public outcry with calls for the pair to never play for Ulster or Ireland again. A review of their conduct was undertaken by Ulster Rugby and the IRFU and on April 14 of this year, the players had their contracts revoked.

Both fly-half Jackson, 26, and centre Olding, 25, have since signed for clubs in France, with their prospects of ever playing Test rugby appearing at an end.

Asked if that were out of the picture for Ireland and the IRFU, the governing body’s performance director left the door open to a return.

“It’s not one for me to say but I don’t think we can make a comment on that,” Nucifora said yesterday. “But I don’t think anything is ever forever, who knows what could happen or what will happen?

For the immediate future, there’s no thought that they will be considered. They are playing overseas so at the moment if you’re playing overseas, you’re not considered.

Nucifora said the IRFU had reviewed its player education programmes in light of the Jackson and Olding case, which brought to light the existence of the WhatsApp group involving both men, whose contracts were subsequently revoked. Team-mate Craig Gilroy was sanctioned following the internal review of a text message he sent.

“There’s always been ongoing education and I think that has been reviewed, how we can make that better.

That is still being worked on, looking at how we can continue to better the education of our players across all areas of social responsibility. That is being done, has been done and will continue to be worked on.

“The players now have found new contracts so that’s a positive for them personally, individually, and everyone just has to move on from that. It was a tough year in regards to that for the players, for Ulster and for rugby in general.

“Hopefully, we don’t go through that ever again.”

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