Ulster and Ireland international rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been charged by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in relation to allegations of rape.
Jackson and Olding, who both deny the charges, will appear in court next month and neither will play for Ireland or Ulster again until the court case is concluded, having “been relieved of their duties”.
The two players were arrested and released by police in Belfast in June 2016.
Four men have been charged in total. As well as Jackson and Olding, another man is accused of sexual offences while the fourth faces counts of withholding information and perverting the course of justice.
A Public Prosecution Service spokesman said that following a “careful review of all of the available evidence” and in accordance with its code for prosecutors, it had been decided there was “sufficient evidence to prosecute four individuals”.
The IRFU and Ulster Rugby said: “Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been charged by the PSNI in relation to serious allegations made against them.
“The players have co-operated fully and strenuously deny the charges. The IRFU and Ulster Rugby take these allegations extremely seriously.
“To allow the players time to address this matter fully Ulster Rugby and the IRFU have agreed that they be relieved of their duties and obligations until the conclusion of this process. Appropriate support structures will be put in place with them during this time.
“As this is a matter for the Public Prosecution Service, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Jackson’s solicitor Kevin Winters added: “We are very disappointed at the decision of the PPS to prosecute, given the particular circumstances and facts known in this case.
“Our client rejects completely the allegations made against him and we are confident he will be exonerated in due course.
“Given that the case will be a jury trial, it is absolutely critical that nothing is done or said in the media to prejudice due process and to that end, we urge restraint on any sensationalist reporting.
“We will push for as early a hearing as possible, as Patrick wants to quickly resume playing his rugby for Ulster and representing his country.”
Olding’s solicitor Joe Rice said: “It is disappointing that over a year since the original allegation was made that the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland has now issued a decision to prosecute.
“My client has co-operated fully with the police investigation. He is a man of impeccable good character and has never brought himself to the attention of the authorities previously.
“He is not subject to any bail conditions and he is anxious to restore his good name through the court process in Northern Ireland, where the charge against him will be fully contested.”
Jackson, 25, has earned 25 caps for Ireland since 2013, while 24-year-old Olding has been capped four times.