Ulster's Stockdale hits back over Brian O'Driscoll's stinging 'basket case' jibe
One of Ulster Rugby's top stars has hit back at "ridiculous" claims from former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll that the club is a "basket case".
Jacob Stockdale also insisted there was no rift in the dressing room, saying recent events had only galvanised the team.
It comes amid continuing controversy over the sacking of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.
The pair were unanimously cleared last month of raping the same woman at a party at Jackson's home in June 2016. All jurors also acquitted Jackson of sexual assault.
However, the fallout has continued to overshadow Ulster, with protests following the verdict and unrest among fans.
Asked last week about current goings-on, O'Driscoll described the club as a "basket case".
The former captain (39) referred to Jordi Murphy, the Leinster winger due to move to Ulster, and suggested he could be forgiven for now having doubts over the switch.
O'Driscoll said: "They don't have a coach, (they're) a little bit of a basket case at the moment, and he's going up there to try and play his rugby from next year on."
But Ireland winger Stockdale (22) slammed the comments, saying: "I think he called us a basket case, which, to be honest, I think is ridiculous. We are competing for the PRO14 play-offs, we are actually in quite a good place and I think he could probably count on his hands how many times he has been up at Ulster Rugby in the last five years.
"So, I think the comments are pretty unfair."
The Lurgan man insisted there is no rift in the Ulster dressing room and claimed that the side's current morale is high.
"In terms of within the club and in terms of the players there is absolutely no split," he added.
"To be honest, everything that has gone on outside of Ulster Rugby and the stuff that you can't control has almost galvanised us. We are a very close-knit group at the moment and I think that is being seen. We have pulled out performance on top of performance and we have started actually playing some really good rugby."
The media spotlight has barely shifted from Ulster since January, when the rape trial opened.
At the end of last month, a jury took less than four hours to unanimously acquit Jackson and Olding.
Two others were also unanimously cleared of lesser charges.
Blane McIlroy, who was accused of exposure, and Rory Harrison, who was charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding information, were both fully acquitted.
However, Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union revoked Jackson and Olding's contracts following an internal review into their conduct.
It focused on a series of sexually explicit WhatsApp conversations involving the players and their friends about the encounter at the centre of the rape trial.
The club has also faced criticism after banning news journalists from the last two press conferences.
The National Union of Journalists said it has received a "huge response" after a call for members to sign to an open letter against the ban.
Secretary of the Belfast branch of the NUJ Ciaran O Maolain said they would be seeking an "urgent meeting" with Ulster Rugby.
"We have had upwards of 70 journalists sign our open letter, which shows how seriously members of the union take press and media freedom and how much resentment Ulster Rugby has engendered by their decision to exclude news journalists," he stated.