Ireland 'not at all' distracted by Jackson and Olding situation

The Ulster pair were questioned by police over alleged sexual offences.

Murray Kinsella reports from Chicago

THE ATMOSPHERE IN Trump Tower yesterday wasn’t quite what we would have expected early in the week of a clash with the All Blacks.

There was certainly excitement obvious in Andy Farrell, Josh van der Flier and Ultan Dillane as they spoke to the media, but there was also the situation involving Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding hanging over proceedings.

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding celebrate after the game Olding and Jackson are not involved in Chicago. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

The Ulster duo, who started Ireland’s most recent Test match against South Africa in June, were arrested and questioned by the PSNI over alleged sexual offences in June – with the BBC breaking the news late on Monday night.

Mention of Jackson not travelling to the States due to ‘personal reasons’ when Ireland named their 27-man squad earlier in the day had been a surprise, and rumours began to swirl around soon after.

Ulster followed up yesterday morning by releasing a statement confirming that both players “deny any wrongdoing and have not been charged with any offence.”

Meanwhile, KRW Law - the legal firm representing Jackson – stated their disappointment that the information had filtered into the media and underlined that the Ulster out-half “rejects completely any allegations made against him.”

Olding’s lawyer, Joe Rice, confirmed that the four-times capped Ireland international “completely rejects any allegations of wrongdoing made against him and is confident his name will be cleared in due course.”

Naturally enough, this topic was raised at Ireland’s press conference yesterday, with assistant coach Farrell being the man sent out to bat the questions away.

He declined to comment in any detail, referring three questions about the situation back to Ulster’s statement.

Ireland’s Richardt Strauss Devin Toner Jamie Heaslip Finlay Bealham Conor Murray Rhys Ruddock Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding Olding and Jackson both played in the third Test in South Africa. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Farrell did, however, insist that the situation would not be a distraction for Ireland – despite the fact that Jackson and Olding [currently on the comeback trail from a groin injury] started the final Test in South Africa and would likely have been involved in the US but for injury and non-availability.

“No, not at all,” said Farrell. “Look, the last games that we played together over in South Africa, the squad’s quite a bit different, really.

“There’s players that are back and players not here, etc. We did particularly well, I thought, to deal with that then, with the amount of injuries we had going over to South Africa and to win the first game.

“I feel we’ve had a good start to the week, got a few players back and a squad that’s excited about getting out there and performing in what’s going to be an unbelievable occasion. It’s privilege to be here, isn’t it?”

The timing of the breaking news was obviously far from ideal, with the story being picked up by the New Zealand media early in the week of one of the most eagerly-anticipated fixtures of the season.

That said, rugby players and management teams are very good at moving on quickly from distractions and they won’t struggle to ignore the story as they prepare to face the best team in the world.

Any thoughts that the US media would take an interest in the Jackson and Olding news were quickly dispelled at yesterday’s press conference, which was attended only by the small group of Irish journalists who arrived in early for this match week.

Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson celebrate winning Olding and Jackson could yet have some involvement in the November Tests. Presseye / Darren Kidd/INPHO Presseye / Darren Kidd/INPHO / Darren Kidd/INPHO

There was one American journalist present on the 16th floor of the imposing Trump Tower, although their focus was more on Ireland’s thoughts about playing in Chicago and the passionate support that is likely to back them at Soldier Field.

The local media have been rather busy with other sporting matters. The Bears, Chicago’s NFL side, ended a three-game losing streak on Monday night as quarterback Jay Cutler made an impressive return to guide them to a 20-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

But dominating the sporting landscape in Chicago this week has been the thrilling World Series adventure of the Cubs.

Last night, the baseball outfit tied the series 3-3 heading into tonight’s final meeting, and Chicago will be truly alive as the Cubs attempt to end their 108-year, Mayo-esque streak of heartbreak and take the World Series in Game 7.

They routed the Cleveland Indians 9-3 last night to set up a thrilling denouement that will captivate the nation. With the cameras regularly flashing to the likes of LeBron James, Bill Murray and a host of other celebrities during Game 6, it’s hardly a surprise that a rugby-related story hasn’t been mentioned in the sports pages of the US media.

Joe Schmidt will hope the story has been put to bed before speaking to the media on Thursday afternoon local time, as he understands better than anyone the need for Ireland to be utterly focused on the task at hand this weekend.

Either way, this has been an extremely unwelcome aspect of the week as Ireland prepare for their shot at history in Soldier Field.

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‘We’ll get on with our own business’ – Ireland refuse to comment on Jackson situation