The British and Irish Lions will be given free rein on whether to take the knee before the first Test against South Africa on Saturday, says Anthony Watson.

Rather than enforce a united approach like the England national football team, all players in the Test squad will have a personal choice to take the knee in support of the principle of racial equality. The issue proved to be a lightning rod at the start of Euro 2021 with a minority of England supporters booing their own team. 

“It has been spoken about and the boys have got the opportunity to do it if they feel they want to,” Watson said. “That’s it. It is up to individuals to make the decision they want to make. There’s no pressures either way. We just talked through what would happen before the start of the game in terms of the national anthems.

“Then it was explained this is your opportunity to do it if you feel you want to do it. There’s no bias or opinions thrown out there because people need to make their own decisions. If someone wants to take a knee they need to do the research as to why they want to do it and if people don’t then likewise.”

The Springboks will not take the knee as they have their own anti-racism programme, Rugby Against Racism and Discrimination. Wing Watson, along with second-row Maro Itoje and hooker Jamie George, all took the knee during the Six Nations, although Telegraph columnist Courtney Lawes refused on the account of its links with BLM movement.

Watson, who has already spoken out on criticism of the England team taking the knee, confirmed that he will continue with the gesture – if selected for the first Test. “If I have the opportunity I will take a knee, 100 per cent,” Watson said. “I just feel it is very important for people to continue to have conversations around inequalities. 

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“I think the footballers set a great example. All it takes is a few kids at school to ask a question as to why the England footballers are taking a knee before a game to raise awareness for people who would not otherwise have that awareness. For me it is a no-brainer. It is not a case that by taking a knee then all racial inequalities are fixed. It is not like that. As long as in 15-20 years people are more aware of what has been and gone and what is happening day to day then it will work out for the best. It is not a quick fix, it is not going to change the world but I think it is important for the future, to be honest.”