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Best praises Brive's belief in 'second chances' after French side sign Stuart Olding

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Former Ulster and Ireland flanker Neil Best has praised Brive for giving Stuart Olding a two-year contract to play in France's second tier from next season.

Former Ulster centre Olding had been without a club for the past six weeks after his contract with his home province was revoked. Olding and his former team-mate and fellow Ireland international Paddy Jackson were found not guilty of rape in March at the end of a lengthy trial in Belfast's Crown Court and have not played any rugby since the first half of 2017.

The pair were stood down during the long legal proceedings and then had their contracts terminated following an internal review by the province and the Irish Rugby Football Union.

Both had been linked with moves to a number of clubs in England, France and even further afield and were thought to be on the verge of signing for Premiership side Sale before it is believed that club sponsors objected to the potential move.

With Brive willing to take the chance on Olding, Best has hailed the French outfit for their willingness to grant the player a second chance.

"Brive to their credit clearly believe in rehabilitation and second chances," said the 18-times capped Irish international who also represented Northampton Saints.

Olding's new club are to be coached by former Ulster, Ireland and Lions lock Jeremy Davidson who has been forging a successful coaching career in France for a number of seasons.

Having made his reputation with low-budget Aurillac, the Dungannon man who had a spell at Castres during his playing career, moved to Bordeaux last summer to take charge of their forwards. But with Brive relegated from the Top14 back in April, the 1997 Heineken Cup winners were in the market for a new head coach and appointed Davidson earlier this month.

And Best, who joined Northampton at the same time as fellow Ulsterman Roger Wilson, believes that the presence of a somewhat familiar face will greatly aid Olding's transition into life in France.

"There's no doubt having someone like Jeremy Davidson at the club will make his transition to life in French club rugby that little bit easier," he added.

Best continued: “I expect we will have news about Paddy Jackson’s future too within the next week or so.”

While Sale were not the only side to distance themselves from the man who was Ireland’s undisputed back-up to Johnny Sexton at out-half before his court case — Clermont and Exeter publicly also denied their own interest — there is a possibility that Olding’s move could pave the way for Jackson to find a deal.

There appeared to be little opposition to Olding’s deal in France despite the circumstances behind his Ulster exit, and clubs wary of the public reaction may well have taken note.

La Rochelle, who met with former Ulster coach Jono Gibbes before he arrived in Waikato to start his new job, were the latest to be linked to the out-half.

Meanwhile, in Jackson’s absence, there remains uncertainty over who will be wearing the 10 jersey at Ulster next season.

Young former Ireland Under-20s international Johnny McPhillips impressed as the side finished a tough campaign on a high with a five game unbeaten run that culminated in a Champions Cup play-off victory.

There is still the feeling, however, that the province would like to add an experienced figure.

Ireland would like Joey Carbery to leave Leinster for somewhere he is likely to get regular playing time at 10 before next year’s World Cup, although he is believed to be more interested in a switch to Munster.

Springbok Elton Jantjies was also targeted, although the IRFU were reluctant.

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