Ulster and Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, who were last month acquitted of raping the same woman, have been sacked.
Employers Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) confirmed Jackson and Olding’s departure on Saturday following an internal review into their conduct.
While Jackson, 26, and 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 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.
The trial was controversial for the treatment of the alleged victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
At one in proceedings, the clothes she wore on the night of the alleged assault were shown to the jury.
Police said she was “upset and disappointed” at the verdict.
It prompted an outpouring of support for her. On Friday, there were protests outside Ulster rugby’s grounds in Belfast, the first home game since Jackson and Olding’s acquittal.
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.”
During the trial, jurors heard the content of group WhatsApp messages in which Olding and Jackson boasted about having sex.
Olding described a woman he had sex with as “very, very loose” and said he and his friends were “all top shaggers”.
After his dismissal, Jackson said he was “truly sorry”.
He said: “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.”
Olding said: “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.”