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Who should Ulster sign to replace Paddy Jackson?

By Jonathan Bradley

Paddy Jackson's departure from Ulster Rugby leaves a large gap in the province's panel.

He and Stuart Olding both had their contracts with Ulster and Ireland revoked over the weekend despite being acquitted of raping the same woman in June 2016.

Regardless of opinion on the decision to terminate the deals, there can be no denying Jackson's ability as a player.

In his mid-20s and of international quality - rare attributes in an Ulster squad facing a battle for Champions Cup qualification - in other circumstances, he's a player the province couldn't countenance losing.

As it is, replacing him requires the pulling of a rabbit from a hat.

Looking for quality in the market at this time of year is akin to finding a needle in a haystack.

Especially given the proximity to the World Cup in 2019, players of standard have likely been snapped up. Ulster find themselves the equivalent of a shopper in search of Christmas presents on December 24. Everything good is gone but both you and the seller know that you need something, anything, either way.

Barring the uncovering of news that Beauden Barrett has always wanted to know why there's such a fuss about Ballyhackamore, Christian Leali'ifano would seem sure to be the most popular choice with the fanbase.

The Australian was taken to heart quickly during his short spell at Kingspan Stadium earlier this season and the feeling certainly seemed mutual. The player said he would not be ruling out a return in the future when he headed back to Brumbies earlier this year.

The Wallaby has been back at 12 for the Canberra outfit of late, but is out of contract after the Super Rugby season, though whether he fits into national coach Michael Cheika's plans will have a bearing too.

World rugby's biggest-name free agent, Leali'ifano's compatriot Quade Cooper, remains available, but there didn't seem to be anything more than cursory interest from either party when a short-term solution was sought in January.

Looking south will always be an option too with Leinster's overflowing cupboard sure to get one or two envious glances.

Joey Carbery has already stated his lack of interest in leaving the RDS outfit, though he and Ross Byrne have got plenty of minutes in the blue No.10 jersey this season.

In limbo no longer, whatever happens Ulster must act swiftly.

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