IRELAND – Irish fly-half Paddy Jackson and Ulster teammate Stuart Olding have been sacked by their province and their contracts with the Irish Rugby Football Union terminated despite being cleared in a rape trial, the IRFU announced on Saturday.
In a trial last month, both Jackson and Olding were acquitted of raping a woman in 2016 after a night out but an internal review by both Ulster and the IRFU decided the pair should be sacked.
For 26-year-old Jackson it brings a brutal end to a Test career, at least for the forseeable future, which had seen him earn 25 caps.
Prior to the incident, Jackson was the undisputed understudy to Irish great Johnny Sexton.
Dashing centre Olding, 25, had won four caps although he was far down the pecking order in terms of the first-choice Test side even before the charges were brought.
"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," a short statement said.
"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."
Despite being unanimously acquitted last month the pair had faced a backlash on social media, on the streets and in the mainstream media over unedifying text messages they exchanged after the night out that led to the rape accusation.
A fellow Ulster team-mate, Craig Gilroy, has been suspended by the province till April 26 for a text message he sent to the pair.
Jackson told the Press Association on Saturday he was "deeply disappointed" by the decision to end his contract.
The latest protest against the duo saw dozens of people stage a protest on Friday outside the stadium in Belfast ahead of Ulster's Pro14 match against Ospreys, the side's first home game since the trial.
The rally was organised by Belfast Feminist Network.
Pressure was also exerted by key sponsors.
Ulster Rugby's shirt sponsor Bank of Ireland (BoI) said it was "highly concerned" about the "serious behaviour and conduct issues" that emerged in the trial.
The bank, which has sponsored the club for 20 years, contacted Ulster Rugby chief executive Shane Logan regarding the case.
Over 100 supporters also helped pay for an advertisement in a local newspaper urging for them to be removed.
"To the leadership of the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby... The content of social media exchanges involving Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding was reprehensible.
“Such behaviour falls far beneath the standard that your organisations represent and as such we demand that neither of these men represents Ulster or Ireland now or at any point in the future.
"We expect an answer to this letter.
"Yours, concerned fans."
However, the pair were not without their supporters either.
Earlier in the week, an online petition calling for their reinstatement gathered thousands of signatures.
The Change.org petition said they should "be reinstated to the Ulster Rugby squad as soon as possible".
Former Ulster and Ireland captain Willie John McBride added his considerable weight to the debate, saying both players should be permitted to resume their careers.
Mindful of the issues about players' behaviour off the field and some of the opinions expressed in the text messages, the IRFU also said it would launch "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."