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Winger Anthony Watson defends ‘taking the knee’ ahead of England’s Six Nations clash

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England rugby star Anthony Watson has defended taking the knee ahead of today’s Six Nations clash with Italy at Twickenham.

But the 26-year-old winger insisted it was not a show of support for Black Lives Matter, whose views he branded ‘a bit extreme’.

Watson was among 12 teammates who made the anti-racism gesture before last week’s loss to Scotland in a decision that divided both sets of players.

Seven Englishmen remained standing while only four Scots took the knee during the pre-kick off moment to mark the Rugby Against Racism campaign.

That players took the knee before the match sparked a row, with fans both praising and blasting the action, which has become associated with the BLM movement and its left-wing leanings.

Lockdown has put paid to crowds at sports matches and meant fans could not express their feelings live – at some football matches held between Covid waves spectators booed and applauded.

However many waded into the debate on social media and caused Watson to address the criticism at Thursday’s pre-match press conference.   

Some England players take a knee in support of the ‘Rugby Against Racism’ campaign prior to the Guinness Six Nations match between England and Scotland at Twickenham last week

England rugby star Anthony Watson has defended taking the knee ahead of today's Six Nations clash with Italy at Twickenham

England rugby star Anthony Watson has defended taking the knee ahead of today’s Six Nations clash with Italy at Twickenham

The 80,000 seat stadium will be empty again today, and early pictures outside the ground – which would usually be bustling well ahead of the 2pm kickoff – saw no fans

Watson said: ‘I just feel very strongly it is a double standard at the moment and you guys and everyone wants athletes to have opinions and express themselves and then when they do, a lot of people are shot in the foot for it and even more serious things can come from it.

‘I think that if people were educated fully on why kneeling was started, then they would be in a much better place to comment on what we are doing and what is going on.

‘Not everyone who is kneeling is directly associated with the Black Lives Matter organisation because some of their views, in my opinion, are a bit extreme but the importance of kneeling to raise awareness of social injustice I feel is still massively important.

‘To see people on social media try to discredit its importance, I can’t let that slide. People want to jump on it because it is their way of disagreeing with it instantly.’ 

Ex-England hooker Brian Moore also threw his weight behind Watson, but added that ‘what they do in their life and how they deal with racism is more important than an act which could, outwardly, signal support but be no more than a gesture if not practiced.’

Billy Vunipola was one of the England players who remained standing at the beginning of last week’s game.

The number 8 of Tongan descent had also refused to take the knee in England’s 40-0 win against Georgia in the Autumn Nations Cup in November last year.

At the time he said he could not be seen to be supporting BLM, adding: ‘They were burning churches and Bibles. I can’t support that.’

England captain Owen Farrell warms up in an empty Twickenham stadium ahead of today's match against Italy

England captain Owen Farrell warms up in an empty Twickenham stadium ahead of today’s match against Italy

Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs, Kyle Sinclair, Jonny May, George Ford, Elliott Daley, Mark Wilson, Willie Heinz, Tom Curry, Jamie George, Beno Obano, Maro Itoje and Anthony Watson were among the England players who kneeled

Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs, Kyle Sinclair, Jonny May, George Ford, Elliott Daley, Mark Wilson, Willie Heinz, Tom Curry, Jamie George, Beno Obano, Maro Itoje and Anthony Watson were among the England players who kneeled

Eddie Jones' men will hope to run riot over Italy in southwest London today following a disastrous opening day 11-6 defeat to underdogs Scotland last week

Eddie Jones’ men will hope to run riot over Italy in southwest London today following a disastrous opening day 11-6 defeat to underdogs Scotland last week

Ben Earl, Harry Williams, Jonny Hill, Courtney Lawes and Luke Cowan Dickie also remained standing during the game. 

Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs, Kyle Sinclair, Jonny May, George Ford, Elliott Daley, Mark Wilson, Willie Heinz, Tom Curry, Jamie George, Beno Obano, Maro Itoje and Anthony Watson were among the England players who kneeled.

Eddie Jones’ men will hope to run riot over Italy in southwest London today following a bruising opening day 11-6 defeat to underdogs Scotland last week. 

It was the first time the Scots have beaten England at Twickenham in 38 years and only the fifth time in history.

Italy have the worst record in the competition and England will be hoping for a try-scoring rout to claw a crucial bonus point.

The 80,000 seat stadium will be empty again today, and early pictures outside the ground – which would usually be bustling well ahead of the 2pm kickoff – saw no fans.

Professional sport continues to be allowed to happen despite the strict third national lockdown still in force. 

Last year’s tournament was abandoned ahead of the final round of matches as the pandemic started spiralling out of control. The remaining games were finally played in late 2020 and England were crowned champions.  

Which rugby players took the knee and which remained standing in last week’s Six Nations game between England and Scotland?

England players who did not kneel

  • Billy Vunipola 
  • Ben Earl 
  • Harry Williams
  • Jonny Hill
  • Courtney Lawes
  • Luke Cowan Dickie

England players who knelt

  • Anthony Watson
  • Henry Slade
  • Ollie Lawrence
  • Jonny May
  • Owen Farrell
  • Ben Youngs
  • Ellis Genge
  • Jamie George
  • Will Stuart 
  • Maro Itoje
  • Jonny Hill
  • Mark Wilson
  • Tom Curry
  • Beno Obano
  • Dan Robson
  • George Ford
  • Max Malins 
  • Elliot Daly

Scotland players who did kneel

  • Cameron Redpath
  • Jonny Gray 

Scotland players who did not kneel

  • Rory Sutherland 
  • Scott Cummings
  • Jonny Gray
  • Jamie Ritchie 
  • Hamish Watson 
  • Matt Fagerson
  • Finn Russell
  • David Cherry
  • Oli Kebble 
  • WP Nel
  • Richie Gray
  • Gary Graham
  • Scott Steele
  • Jaco van der Walt 
  • Huw Jones 
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