Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding may return for Ireland, admits David Nucifora
The door remains open for Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding to return to Irish rugby, according to one of the game's most influential power brokers.
David Nucifora, the union's performance director who signs off on all contracts from the provinces, said the possibility of them playing in Ireland again could not be ruled out.
Jackson and Olding were acquitted on all charges at the end of their high-profile rape trial in March, however the Ulster and Ireland internationals had their contracts revoked by the union in April and have since moved to France.
Olding (25) signed for second tier side Brive, while 26-year-old Jackson's deal with recently promoted Perpignan was confirmed earlier this month.
However, like all overseas-based Irish players, the pair will not be considered for international selection while they ply their trade abroad.
Messages exchanged between the pair and friends, which appeared in evidence during the trial, were found to have fallen below the standards expected of them by their employers and they were dismissed.
In the aftermath of the acquittals there were protests held around the country calling for changes in how the justice system deals with women during rape trials.
Ulster chief executive Shane Logan, who has since announced his own departure, refused to rule out a potential return for the duo in the immediate aftermath of their dismissal.
And now Nucifora suggested they might return to Ireland in the longer term.
"It's not one for me to say, but I don't think we can make a comment on that," he replied when asked if they are out of the picture for Ireland for the rest of their careers.
He added: "But I don't think anything is ever forever, who knows what could happen or what will happen?
"For the immediate future, there's no thought that they will be considered.
"They are playing overseas so, at the moment, if you're playing overseas, you're not considered."
The Australian, who holds responsibility for the performance of the game in Ireland, said efforts are being made to try and ensure that players understand their responsibilities in the hope of avoiding a repeat of the damaging saga.
"There's always been ongoing education and I think that has been reviewed, how we can make that better," he said.
"That is still being worked on, looking at how we can continue to better the education of our players across all areas of social responsibility.
"That is being done, has been done and will continue to be worked on. The players have now found new contracts so that's a positive for them personally, individually, and everyone just has to move on from that.
"It was a tough year in regards to that for the players, for Ulster and for rugby in general.
"Hopefully we don't go through that ever again."
Following the high-profile nine-week case, the professional body for players, Rugby Players Ireland, announced they would be introducing "sexual health and relationships" classes. They will form part of the body's well-being workshops.
Meanwhile, the IRFU hope to hold on to Joe Schmidt beyond next year's World Cup and performance director Nucifora believes there is a "decent chance" that he will remain in situ.
Assistant coaches Andy Farrell, Simon Easterby and Richie Murphy have committed until 2020 and will remain in position for that season regardless of Schmidt's decision on whether to stay beyond the tournament in Japan.
By that time the head coach will have been away from his native New Zealand for more than 12 consecutive years, and he has spoken in recent months about his desire to return home.
However, while the New Zealand rugby union made a major play for his services when he last considered his future in 2016, Schmidt opted to remain for a second World Cup and Nucifora does not believe that coaching the All Blacks is necessarily a major goal of the former Leinster coach.
"He's got to want to stay. That's the main thing," Nucifora said in Sydney yesterday. "He's his own man. He's got to make his decision. Obviously we'll do whatever we can to keep him. We had to do that the last time.
"I don't think it's money that really drives Joe. Once he feels that he's done everything that he can do he then may look for another challenge.
"He's done a fantastic job and he's cultivated a good set of coaches underneath him as well, and I think we're just going to have to be patient like the way we were the last time. The New Zealanders went hard after him the last time and we managed to secure him for this period.
"I'm sure there'll be lots of other people that will be going after him. But it will be his decision and we'll do everything we can to try and keep him if he wants to stay.
"What really drives him? The opportunity to be successful is what drives most coaches. They want to win. Like players, they want to win. So I suggest that if he feels that he's done everything that he can do and achieved everything he can do, that he may look to go.
"But he's his own man, and he could very well surprise us at the last minute and say that he wants to stay for another term.
"All the talk at the moment is about him moving on, purely because he has been here so long, but if I was a betting man, I wouldn't know where to put my money at the moment. I think there's a decent chance that he will stay. So we'll see."