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Axed Ulster pair Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding face tough time in exile: Best

Duo linked with moves to England, France or Australia

By Jonathan Bradley

Former Ulster and Ireland flanker Neil Best believes it will be tough for Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding as they spend the coming days weighing up their next move.

Both men, who were unanimously acquited last month of raping the same woman at Jackson’s home in June of 2016, had their contracts revoked last week following an internal review.

“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,” read Saturday’s statement. Jackson has been heavily linked with a move to Exeter Chiefs or Leicester Tigers, although it is understood both have privately put some distance between themselves and the player.

A lucrative switch to France seems most likely, with champions Clermont believed to be in the market for an out-half of Jackson’s skillset. Premiership teams, as well as one in Australia, are also thought to be considering Olding.

Best, who left Ulster for Northampton Saints in 2008, believes the pair’s next clubs must be considered carefully.

Now Singapore-based, from where he closely monitors Ulster Rugby developments and writes a widely read online blog, Best observed: “Depending on where the two players end up will have a bearing on whether they can reclaim a level of anonymity,”

While that wasn’t the case for Best, who moved to a hotbed of rugby with Northampton, he thinks such a situation would be a welcome change for the men after their months of intense media attention.

Best added: "For me moving from Ulster to Northampton proved even more intense. For a relatively small place, Northampton was supporting a first-rate old money English club and the level of fan and media attention was even more intense.

"But my advice to these guys would be to move to a bigger city where they can enjoy a greater degree of privacy which I am sure would be welcome after recent weeks and months."

There'll be challenges though, he warns, most notably the ever-dwindling prospect that they'll ever find themselves in a position to pull on either the Ulster or Ireland jersey again.

"Moving is difficult, especially when you're leaving your boyhood club and the one you probably only ever dreamed of playing for," he added.

"That's really tough. I think every exile harbours a hope, however small, that someday they'll return and pull on a jersey with a red hand just one more time.

"But of course, as players mature and maybe settle down or start a family that prospect withers with time."

Meanwhile, following a review of a text message sent by Craig Gilroy that was used in evidence during the trial, the winger will miss Ulster's game this weekend against Glasgow. He had already been absent for the wins over Edinburgh and Ospreys and will be available for selection on April 26 ahead of the final league game against Munster, away.

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