Ulster Rugby star Paddy Jackson won't be off big stage for long, says Les Kiss
Kiss confirms only game-management keeps Ulster star out of Pro12 clash with Edinburgh after his arrest
Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss yesterday said that star out-half Paddy Jackson would still be available for selection despite the news that he and team-mate Stuart Olding had been questioned in relation to alleged sexual offences in south Belfast earlier this year.
Both players have strenuously denied any wrongdoing.
Olding is currently out injured with a hip issue but Jackson had been due to feature in Ireland's historic meeting with New Zealand in Chicago's Soldier Field on Saturday.
On the eve of the trip he was pulled from the squad due to what the IRFU called "personal reasons" with reports of the arrests emerging several hours later.
A PSNI spokesperson confirmed: "Police arrested two men aged 24 and one man aged 23 on Thursday 30th June in relation to a number of sexual offences, reported to have taken place at a property in south Belfast, on 28th June.
"The men have been interviewed and released from custody. A file will be prepared for submission to the PPS. A fourth man aged 24, will be reported to the PPS in relation to this incident for perverting the course of justice."
Both players are contracted to Ulster rather than the central deals handed out by the IRFU - Olding penned a new deal in February that runs until 2019 but Jackson is out of contract this summer - and yesterday morning the province released a brief statement.
"Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been assisting the PSNI with enquiries," it read. "The players deny any wrongdoing and have not been charged with any offence.
"As no charges have been brought forward, it would be inappropriate to comment."
At the team's weekly media briefing yesterday, there was little elaboration from Kiss but he did confirm that the players will remain available for selection even if neither will feature in this Friday's Guinness PRO12 fixture with Edinburgh.
"Paddy will be available for the November series next week," he said. "Game-management was already in the way anyway. He'd played his maximum number of games.
"Yeah (Olding is still injured). The statements have been put out, it would be inappropriate to make any further comment. That's our stance at this stage."
Jackson and Olding have combined for 20 caps on the international stage, the former making his debut for the side in 2013 and taking part in last year's World Cup.
Injuries have limited Olding's appearances in green since he was handed a debut by Les Kiss against the USA three years ago but he has four caps, scoring one try. Both men were on the summer tour to South Africa in June, returning to Belfast only days before the police say the alleged offences took place.
After taking on the All Blacks in Chicago, Ireland have three more Tests this month.
Next Saturday they welcome Canada to Dublin in a clash Kiss appears to believe Jackson could feature.
After that repeat of last year's World Cup pool fixture, Joe Schmidt's side host New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium before rounding out the slate with a game against Australia.
Ulster, meanwhile, do not have another game after Friday until the final weekend of this month.
And while Jackson would have been expected to be with the national squad when they arrived at Chicago's Trump Tower hotel, the travelling party were understandably tight-lipped on his absence when addressing the media yesterday.
Echoing the stance that there would be no advancement on the statement made by the province earlier in the day, defence coach Andy Farrell was focused only on the challenge of the World champions.
"I think there's been a bit said about it already and Ulster have come out and made a statement," he said. "We'll reference you to that and we'll get on with our own business because we've got a big job ahead this week so I hope you'll respect that."