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Monday 21 May 2018

Analysis: Latest chapter proves how difficult it will be for Jackson and Olding to move on with careers

Paddy Jackson (left) and Stuart Olding
Paddy Jackson (left) and Stuart Olding

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

This is no ordinary transfer saga, and so there should be no surprise that it will take unusual twists and turns.

If Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding believed that they could slip back into their professional careers as they exited that Belfast courtroom in March, they are only too aware of the alternative reality now.

Experienced observers of Sale Sharks greeted yesterday's statement denying a move for the controversial Ireland internationals with knowing nods.

The Manchester-based club have form in this regard and rather than a pinch, the feeling is that the statement should be met with a shovel of salt.

A year ago they dismissed reports linking them to Australia back James O'Connor of Toulon and South African scrum-half Faf de Klerk, but within weeks both were confirmed as new signings.

If the Ulster duo sign their new deals next week they will have made their first step back to their old lives but any illusion that the future will be normal has been shattered in the five weeks since the jury reached a unanimous decision to acquit them of the charge of rape.

Jackson's defiant statement, issued through his solicitor at the courtroom gate, seems a long time ago now.

"As for Paddy, his main priority right now is to return to work," Joe McVeigh said at the conclusion of his speech. "And that means getting back on to the rugby pitch representing his province and his country."

Both men, belatedly in Jackson's case, expressed contrition for the language used in the infamous WhatsApp messages which appeared in evidence during the trial but that wasn't enough to save their careers with their home province and with Ireland.

That was a heavy price to pay, but now they are finding out that the stain of the trial is set to follow them beyond these shores.

First, Clermont Auvergne and Exeter Chiefs took the unusual step of distancing themselves from moves for the pair and now the club they both expect to sign for have taken the step of denying their impending arrival.

Although the day-to-day coverage of the trial was not anywhere near as extensive across the Irish Sea as it was in Ireland, there has been plenty of focus beyond these shores on the verdict and subsequent protests and debate brought about in the weeks since.

That coverage has extended as far as the 'New York Times', so any sense that escaping the Irish bubble would suffice has long since dissipated.

From a rugby perspective, it is easy to see why the duo are an attractive proposition.

Available for less than the market rate, they are players of international quality with their best years ahead of them.

Test-standard out-halves are difficult to find and at 26, Jackson has had some of the best coaches in the game invest vast amounts of time and effort in him. His goal-kicking is excellent and the other elements of his game are not far off.

Olding may have a lower profile, but he is a versatile back with an ability to break big games wide open as he showed when winning his most significant caps in South Africa in the days before the night that left their careers in ruins.

However, while the rugby side of clubs will recognise their value, the commercial side will see only danger as sponsors and fans digest the news.

Within hours of the news breaking on Tuesday night, a Facebook petition had been created calling for the club to pull out of any deal and bizarrely, it appeared on their official website.

Sale's director of rugby Steve Diamond is known to be something of a maverick and has taken on players with troubled pasts before.

Linked with Australia full-back Israel Folau, who has been embroiled in a controversy all of his own in his homeland over Instagram comments on homosexuality, Diamond said: "We don't want to be associated with that."

It is reported that in the case of Jackson and Olding, he puts more store in the fact that the duo were found not guilty by a court of law and should be free to resume their careers.

Whether his club's fans and sponsors agree is another matter, but it seems he is willing to take that risk.

For Jackson and Olding, the realisation is that the freedom afforded them by the not-guilty verdict has come at a price as a result of their conduct.

If Sale announce their arrival, it will be controversial, even if they wait until next week when their season is over and they won't have any scheduled media briefings until September.

Next season, when they play, they and the club will be heavily scrutinised.

Their every move on and off the pitch will be closely watched.

And, eventually, when they come across an Irish club in Europe the whole sorry saga will be brought up again in the build-up.

Perhaps they could have moved further afield, but the internet has made the world a small place and their actions have been headline news across the globe.

They will restart their careers and even likely enjoy on-pitch success, but it will never be the same again.

Irish Independent

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