Belfast Telegraph

Lions legend Willie John McBride calls for return of Jackson and Olding

British and Irish Lions legend Willie John McBride has said that Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding should be allowed to return to playing for Ulster and Ireland following the conclusion of their trial.

Mr McBride said that the players had been "silly" and suggested that the incident had been alcohol-fuelled but that the pair had "learned their lesson".

He also called for the reinstatement of their teammate Craig Gilroy who was dropped for sending a Whatsapp message used as evidence in the trial.

The former Ulster and Ireland player was speaking on RTE Radio One's Sean O'Rourke programme on Wednesday.

"These young men have made mistakes, and I would imagine they certainly won’t be making those mistakes again. During the trial they behaved very well and carried themselves very well, I hope people will see that these are not bad young men," he said.

Mr McBride also holds the position of President of the Ulster Rugby Supporters Club.

He said alcohol played a large part in the events that led to the trial.

"He’s some drinker, I find that amount of drink difficult to believe," Mr McBride said of Stuart Olding.

“This has been a very sad affair. For this bunch of young people, when alcohol came in common sense went out.”

"The guys have virtually been tried on television and in the press every day walking in and out of court. It’s totally unfair to say they should be gotten rid of, out of Ulster and Ireland."

"As far as I'm concerned, these young men have learned their lesson. All have issued their regrets, sadness and made apologies about the affair. It’s time they get back to doing what they do best, playing rugby."

However Mr McBride did say the players should not be let off lightly for bringing the game into disrepute.

“They should be severely reprimanded,” he said

“We’ve all sinned at some time in the past, got involved in silly things. It’s very sad and silly that they got involved in these things. Obviously it was very wrong.”

Mr Jackson (26) and Mr Olding (25) were unanimously found not guilty of rape after a marathon 42-day trial. Mr Jackson was cleared of a further charge of sexual assault.

Blane McIlroy (26), who was accused of exposure, and Rory Harrison (25), who was charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding information, were also cleared.

The IRFU and Ulster Rugby are currently conducting an internal review into the behaviour of Mr Jackson and Mr Olding.

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