Northern Ireland news

Ulster Rugby 'should explain' why it terminated Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding's contracts

A FORMER Ireland rugby player has called on Ulster Rugby to explain why it terminated Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding's contracts.

Paddy Wallace, who also played for Ulster, claimed fans were frustrated that the club has not explained its decision.

Last month, Jackson and Olding were acquitted of raping a student at a house party in 2016.

However, following an internal review into their conduct employers Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union announced on Saturday they had ended the players' contracts with immediate effect.

It is believed Jackson (26) negotiated a £300,000 pay-off while Olding (25) will walk away with £150,000.

Wallace called on Ulster Rugby to explain its decision.

"Supporters are up in arms. They're thinking 'do I renew my season ticket?, do I come to the game?'," he told the BBC.

He added: "I think the frustration from the fans is that there hasn't been a voice from Ulster Rugby to tell them how they came to this decision, what the decision-making process was and what they based their decision on, so there is a bit of disappointment."

Speculation has been mounting that Jackson and Olding could move to France or England to rebuild their careers.

Rumours have been rife that the players have become targets for several clubs, with strong speculation that Jackson could move to French Top 14 side, Clermont Auvergne.

Reports have suggested the French club has already made contact with Jackson's representatives.

He has also been linked with Montpellier and current Aviva Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs, as well as Gloucester.

The Irish News contacted numerous clubs for comment about the speculation yesterday, including Clermont Auvergne and Montpellier, but there were no responses from most sides.

However, a spokesman for Exeter did say "we are not signing Paddy Jackson". The club's forwards coach, Rob Hunter, also insisted it has no plans to sign Olding.

"We get linked to lots of players, it's just not on our radar, it's nothing to do with us really," he said.

Former Ireland coach Declan Kidney, now technical consultant with London Irish, refused to comment yesterday when asked if the club would be interested in signing either Jackson or Olding.

"I know one of those individuals well obviously and I wouldn't like to comment on anything to do with that case at the moment," he told the Press Association.

Ex-Ulster Director of Rugby, Les Kiss, was appointed as London Irish's head coach last month.

While Jackson and Olding were both cleared of rape, there has been a strong public backlash about 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 nine-week trial at Belfast Crown Court.

On Friday, Jackson was spotted outside his solicitor's office just hours before Ulster Rugby and the IRFU announcement on the joint-review.

A joint statement from Ulster Rugby and the IRFU stated: "Following a review, conducted in the aftermath of recent court proceedings, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby have revoked the contracts of Patrick Jackson and Stuart Olding with immediate effect.

"In arriving at this decision, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby acknowledge our responsibility and commitment to the core values of the game - respect, inclusivity and integrity.

"It has been agreed, as part of this commitment, to conduct an in-depth review of existing structures and educational programmes, within the game in Ireland, to ensure the importance of these core values is clearly understood, supported and practised at every level of the game."

Both players, who had been accused of raping the same woman at a house party at Jackson's home in June 2016, expressed disappointment and regret at the decision.

Jackson told the Press Association 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 added.

"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."

Olding also said he was "very sorry this day has come to pass".

"As I said outside court following my acquittal, I am and will always be fiercely proud of having played for my province and country," he said.

"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."

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