A former Ulster Rugby player with more than 100 caps for his Province has said Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been “sacrificed” not for morals and ethics, but for sponsorship and money.
Ulster Rugby and the IRFU announced late on Friday night that the two players had their contracts revoked following a review.
Jackson, 26, and Olding 25, were both acquitted of rape charges last month after a nine-week trial.
Former player Neil Best, writing for rugbypass.com yesterday, said Jackson and Olding “have talent and remain highly employable”.
Both men expressed their disappointment at having to leave Ulster following their ‘sackings’.
Jackson apologised for his behaviour that “has fallen far short of the values expected of me as an international player”, while Olding said: “With the support of my family and friends I shall seek new challenges elsewhere. I bear no one any ill will.”
Already Jackson has been linked with a move to top French side Clermont Auvergne.
Mr Best, who after amassing 122 caps left Ulster in 2008 to join the Northampton Saints, said: “At the heart of this whole situation has been a sense of betrayal – firstly by the players of the values of their families and the club, and now by the club of young men, products of their youth system – now sacrificed – not seen to be on the altar of morals and ethics but perceived to be on the altar of sponsorship and money.”
He added: “No education or retraining has been offered, no prospect of rehabilitation, not even a gesture rejected.
“This has provided the backdrop to a growing degree of sympathy for the players inside and outside the club.”
Mr Best said he expected the two players who have both been capped for Ireland to be a success away from Ulster.
“Jackson and Olding have talent and remain highly employable and like many others before them they will move into exile.
“Success in their new environment will provide a weekly reminder of all that is wrong with Ulster Rugby – no strategy or plan, inconsistency on and off-field and growing disconnect with the fans – all the while subject to direction from Dublin who historically retained other high-profile players amongst scandals of sexual conduct not without parallels.”
He added: “I honestly can’t remember a time when Ulster Rugby have been so at odds with so many of their supporters.”
While Jackson and Olding 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 having voiced 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.
In a statement the IRFU and Ulster Rugby said: “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.”
Jackson, who has made 123 appearances for Ulster Rugby, expressed his disappointment in a statement to the Press Association: “I am deeply disappointed about the outcome of the IRFU and Ulster Rugby’s internal 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. 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.”
Stuart Olding, who has 58 Ulster caps, also issued a statement expressing his regret at leaving Ulster.
It said: “It is with regret that I have been informed that the IRFU have decided to revoke my contract.
“As I said outside court following my acquittal, I am and will always be fiercely proud of having played for my province and country.
“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.
“With the support of my family and friends I shall seek new challenges elsewhere. I bear no one any ill will.
“I am very sorry that this day has come to pass.
“To those who have supported me through these last 20 months and especially the fans who continue to support me, I thank you all.”
Fellow Ireland and Ulster Rugby 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.
A statement from the governing bodies said: “Following a review of a text message sent by Craig Gilroy, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby have sanctioned him, following a disciplinary process in accordance with the terms of his contract.
“Craig will be unavailable for team selection until April 26, 2018.”