Paddy Jackson kicks new side Perpignan to victory during first pro match in a year
Former Ulster and Ireland rugby star Paddy Jackson played in his first professional rugby match in over a year last night, when he appeared in a pre-season friendly for Perpignan against Toulouse.
The out-half, who was cleared of rape after a high-profile trial in March, converted three tries during Perpignan's 21-19 victory.
At one stage in the opening half, a small group of fans could be heard singing 'Stand Up for the Ulsterman', the traditional Ravenhill rugby song.
The 26-year-old showed few signs of rustiness, playing the first 40 minutes.
Jackson's father Peter was one of several family and friends to attend last night's match in Perpignan as Jackson made a good start to his new career.
Jackson, who had not played since winning his 25th cap for Ireland in Japan last year, looked sharp throughout last night and landed all three kicks at the posts which he took.
Fans of the French club appeared to be unaware or indifferent to the Belfast trial, as he was introduced to the crowd as 'Monsieur' Paddy Jackson.
Jackson has carried out a number of media interviews with French outlets, but in a country with different privacy laws and a tendency to keep personal items out of sports interviews, the Belfast trial has rarely been mentioned.
Jackson last took to the field on Ireland's summer tour against Japan in June 2017, before sitting out the entire 2017/18 season while he was facing trial.
The number 10 and his fellow former Ulster player Stuart Olding were unanimously acquitted of all charges.
However, the IRFU and Ulster subsequently cancelled Jackson's contract before he was signed by French side Perpignan.
Ahead of the game against Toulouse, Jackson informed a French website: "I'm so impatient to play again with a smile on my face and to see these steps filled.
"I have not played since the tour in Japan. I've been here for over a year and I've missed rugby.
"I took refuge in training... I worked physically, I worked my game and also my individual technique.
"I want to earn the respect and the trust of the coaches, my partners and supporters.
"I know that it will not be given to me. It is up to me to make every effort to get it."
Olding has since joined Brive, who are in the second tier in France, and is due to feature against Connacht on Saturday evening.
Jackson will have another pre-season game next week against Racing 92, a side which features his former Ireland teammates Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan.
Jackson's return to top-flight club rugby comes as his former employers, Ulster Rugby, begin their search for a new chief executive to replace Shane Logan.
Mr Logan had faced fierce criticism over the club's handling of the fall-out from the trial.
In a job advertisement published in today's Belfast Telegraph, Ulster Rugby says it is looking for an "inspirational" candidate and wants to hear from "dynamic and visionary leaders" with "a unique blend of commercial acumen alongside a passion to protect and promote the values, spirit and prominence" of Ulster Rugby.
The salary and benefits package is described as "competitive".
Paul Terrington, chair of Ulster Rugby management committee, said: "There are firm foundations in place at Ulster Rugby and sound structures for both the professional and amateur game.
"However, there is work to do to make the most of opportunities ahead and the appointment of a new CEO is a key element in future success."