British and Irish Lions players Maro Itoje and Anthony Watson take the knee in the colours of England before February's Calcutta Cup match
Credit: Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Image
Whether British & Irish Lions players take the knee during their tour of South Africa will be a matter of personal choice – which may mean only three players do so before Saturday’s farewell game against Japan.
The Telegraph can reveal the Lions squad have discussed their position on the divisive gesture in the build-up to the match at Murrayfield, agreeing individuals should continue to perform it or not as they see fit.
However, because the Six Nations finished with only several England players taking the knee, most of Saturday’s match-day squad might not participate in the pre-match gesture.
No England players are in the starting XV and, while four are replacements, forward Courtney Lawes has refused to take part because of its links to the Black Lives Matter movement.
That might leave Owen Farrell, Jamie George and Anthony Watson as the only members of the squad to kneel on Saturday.
As forSix Nations matches, anyone wishing to take the knee will be able to do so when the Lions and Japan match-day squads line up for the latter’s national anthem and a message is read out over the public address featuring the words: “We reject all forms of discrimination.”
A decision has yet to be taken about whether exactly the same process will be followed during the South Africa tour, for which the host nation is in charge of stadium operations.
Saturday’s game will be played in front of 16,500 spectators, the UK’s biggest rugby crowd since the coronavirus crisis began.
Players have been booed for taking the knee at football matches played in front of supporters, despite repeated pleas for fans to respect the gesture. During the European Championship, England’s players have been jeered by some of their own supporters.
Advocates of the gesture insist it is nothing more than an expression of solidarity with the anti-racist cause, while its critics claim it is tantamount to an endorsement of the more radical policies of the BLM movement.
Those Lions players who choose to kneel will likely be doing so on their own during their three-Test series against the Springboks.
The world champions have previously worn T-shirts showing their support for anti-racism before matches through a collaboration with the South African Human Rights Commission called Rugby Against Discrimination and Racism.
Asked last month about his players taking the knee against the Lions, South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus said: “We have our own programme called Radar since 2019 which is against racism, our own programme which we initiated long before the other debates started in the world.
“We are happy with the route we are going and how our team is experiencing it, how we are aligned and where we are trying to get with it, so we will stick with our programme on that.”