Two former Irish rugby players who were acquitted of rape have lost a court bid to recoup the legal costs of their defence.

Ex-Ireland and Ulster stars Paddy Jackson, 26, and Stuart Olding, 25, wanted Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service to pay bills totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The men were unanimously acquitted by a jury of raping the same woman at a house party in the summer of 2016 after a high-profile trial in Belfast earlier this year.

However, the pair were subsequently sacked by Ulster and Ireland amid controversy over a series of explicit WhatsApp messages that were revealed during the trial.

They claimed the failed prosecution had caused them serious financial hardship and limited their earning potential in the future. Both men are now playing for clubs in France.

Mr Jackson’s costs were considerably higher than Mr Olding’s, as the latter successfully applied for legal aid midway through the trial.

Lawyers for the players insisted their prosecution was not warranted, alleging multiple failings in the police and the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service’s handling of the case.

Rugby players court casePaddy Jackson’s costs were considerably higher than Stuart Olding’s because Mr Olding secured legal aid midway through the trial proceedings (Niall Carson/PA)

Judge Patricia Smyth rejected their applications on Friday.

She concluded that the decision to prosecute the men was justified.

“This was a highly complex police investigation and the prosecution was warranted albeit the jury did not consider that the charges had been proved beyond reasonable doubt,” she said.

“Having considered all of the relevant factors, I am satisfied that there is no basis for exercising my discretion in the applicants’ favour. The applications are therefore dismissed.”

The judge noted that the players had not provided to the court details of their severance terms with Ulster and Ireland, including whether the prosecution was the official reason their contracts were terminated.

“In those circumstances, there is simply no evidence upon which this court could conclude that the financial circumstances of either Mr Jackson or Mr Olding have been irrevocably changed as a consequence of the prosecution for rape and that this is a relevant factor to take into account in determining the applications,” she added.