ULSTER Rugby fans are calling for a boycott of their upcoming match against Glasgow after the sacking of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.
The players, who were acquitted of rape by an 11-person jury last month, had their Ulster contracts terminated at the weekend following an internal review.
In a joint statement, Ulster Rugby and the IRFU confirmed the pair's contracts had been revoked with immediate effect, adding: "In arriving at this decision, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby acknowledge our responsibility and commitment to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."
Jackson and Olding, along with two friends, Blaine McIlroy and Rory Harrison, were acquitted of all charges in their rape trial at Belfast Crown Court.
However, text messages from a group chat involving the players sparked anger after they were revealed at the trial.
Jackson, 26, said he was "deeply disappointed" with the termination of his contract, but recognised that his behaviour had "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".
Olding, 25, struck a similarly apologetic tone, saying: "I am very sorry this day has come to pass."
Why don't the rest of the @IrishRugby team refuse to play until Jackson and Olding get their contracts renewed? Come on boys...... Stand up for your mates.
— Aine Ni Bhrolchain (@ni_bhrolchain) April 16, 2018
Nah was a man legit just crying on the news about Ulster terminating the contracts of Jackson and Olding?
— Caitlin (@underwxrId) April 15, 2018
“No justice for Jackson and Olding, sure haven’t we all sent text messages like that.”
— Adam Donnelly (@TheDonnerKebab) April 15, 2018
But fans who supported both players throughout their trial criticised the decision, calling it "spineless" and "pathetic".
Writing on an online supporters' forum, many called for a boycott and protests at Saturday's game.
Proposals put forward by fans included an outright boycott, a boycott of food outlets, a late-turn up and a full protest march outside the stadium.
It comes after former Ulster flanker Neil best accused the club of "betrayal" and "scapegoating" the pair by revoking their contracts.
He said: "At the heart of this whole situation has been a sense of betrayal - firstly by the players of the values of their families and the club, and now by the club of young men, products of their youth system - now sacrificed - not seen to be on the altar of morals and ethics, but perceived to be on the altar of sponsorship and money."
Ulster Rugby's official supporters' club URSC, who had previously expressed concern that ticket renewals could drop if the players were sacked, issued a further statement last night.
A URSC spokesman said: "Previously URSC had said it respected the judicial outcome and the review process. Subsequently URSC asked that the review outcome be proportionate and in line with precedence.
"URSC will now examine the review outcome, and taking account of its members' views, will provide its considered response in due course.
"Very shortly, members will receive an email containing a short questionnaire pertaining to this.
"We would encourage as many members as possible to respond to help the committee accurately reflect the feelings of members and act accordingly."
An online petition calling for the two international backs to be reinstated has now reached more than 18,000 signatures.
It has been claimed that fly-half Jackson is in talks with French champions Clermot Auvergne as he looks to get his rugby career back on track.
Meanwhile, outside centre Olding and his representatives are thought to be in talks with at least two teams in Australia.