Ulster and Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, who were cleared of rape, have been sacked

Rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have had their contracts with the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster revoked.

The pair were last month acquitted of raping the same woman after being found unanimously not guilty in a high-profile trial at Belfast Crown Court.

Their employers confirmed Jackson and Olding’s departure after an internal review into their conduct.

Other aspects of their behaviour have been heavily criticised, with major sponsors of Ulster Rugby having voiced concern.

Protests took place at the first Ulster rugby home game after the acquittal of the two players (Getty Images)

In a statement the IRFU and Ulster Rugby said: “Following a review, conducted in the aftermath of recent court proceedings, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby have revoked the contracts of Patrick Jackson and Stuart Olding with immediate effect.

“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.

“It has been agreed, as part of this commitment, to conduct an in-depth review of existing structures and educational programmes, within the game in Ireland, to ensure the importance of these core values is clearly understood, supported and practised at every level of the game.”

The IRFU and Ulster Rugby review had focused on a series of sexually explicit WhatsApp conversations involving the players and their friends about the sexual encounter at the centre of the rape trial.

Jackson, 26, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the outcome of the review.

“However, I recognise that my behaviour has fallen far short of the values expected of me as an international player, a role model for the game of rugby and as a son and a brother. I am truly sorry,” he said.

Olding, 25, also issued a statement expressing his regret.

He said: “As I said outside court following my acquittal, I am and will always be fiercely proud of having played for my province and country.

“I very much wished to continue to have the opportunity to represent them.”

He added: “I said outside court that the Stuart Olding that you read about in the trial is not the real Stuart Olding.

“The treatment that I have received since my acquittal, both fair and unfair, has made me even more determined to prove myself.

“With the support of my family and friends I shall seek new challenges elsewhere. I bear no one any ill will.”

Fellow Ireland and Ulster star Craig Gilroy, who was not involved in the trial, has been disciplined for sending one of the offensive messages that was outlined to the court.

He had already been made unavailable for selection and will now face a further two-week suspension.

A statement from the governing bodies said: “Following a review of a text message sent by Craig Gilroy, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby have sanctioned him, following a disciplinary process in accordance with the terms of his contract.

“Craig will be unavailable for team selection until 26th April 2018.”

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