London Irish have made the brave call of naming former Ireland flyhalf Paddy Jackson among the club’s 4-man leadership group ahead of the new Gallagher Premiership season, just over a year after sponsor Diageo dropped the club for signing him.

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Jackson was at the centre of a controversial rape trial that gripped the island of Ireland in 2018 and it ultimately saw the flyhalf have his IRFU contract terminated. Jackson was found not guilty but the scandal saw him leave for France, where he continued to face attacks from women’s rights organisations.

The controversy followed him to London Irish in 2019, when drinks giant Diageo pulled their sponsorship from the club – an association that had been running for thirty years – after they signed the playmaker.

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“The bottom line is that if you look at everything, I think there is more support than not. That’s my view,” head coach Les Kiss said at the time. “First and foremost Paddy is a good rugby player and it’s an opportunity for him to further his career. He saw that as a good opportunity.

“People will have their opinions on the back story and the past, but we believe what we are about and we believe we are doing the right thing.”

Bravely, London Irish have now named him in their ‘leadership’ group. The club released the following statement: “London Irish can confirm a quartet of players have been selected as the club’s leadership group for the 2020/21 season.

“Leading Irish into the new campaign, the club’s first back in town at the Brentford Community Stadium, will be Blair Cowan, Paddy Jackson, Nick Phipps and Matt Rogerson.

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“The Exiles kick-off their Gallagher Premiership season away at Worcester Warriors on Saturday 21 November, before welcoming Leicester Tigers to their new home at the Brentford Community Stadium on Sunday 29 November.”

Director of Rugby, Declan Kidney, said: “We believe that in Blair, Paddy, Nick and Matt we’ve got a very strong leadership group for the upcoming season.

“Needless to say, it’s a collective when it comes to leadership and everyone plays their part – from the players, to the coaches and the rest of the staff – but each of the four players brings different strengths that will stand us in good stead over the course of the campaign.

“We’re excited about the season ahead and really looking forward to returning to the capital and playing at the Brentford Community Stadium.”

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