Billie Vunipola leads players who chose NOT to kneel against racism at Six Nations: England star who is of Tongan descent and was born in Australia has compared practice to ‘burning churches and Bibles’
- Players lined up in support of the Rugby Against Racism campaign today
- England are taking on Scotland at Twickenham, London, in the Six Nations
- Earlier France trounced Italy 50 points to 10 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome
Billy Vunipola led a minority of England players who chose not to kneel against racism at the Six Nations today.
The second half of the annual Calcutta Cup kicked off at an empty Twickenham stadium in southwest London today.
Ahead of kick-off, the players lined up in support of the Rugby Against Racism campaign but not all players took part in taking the knee.
Twelve England players and four Scotland stars took the knee while the rest remained standing.
The majority of England’s rugby players took the knee before kick off at Twickenham this afternoon
Meanwhile four Scotland stars took the knee while the rest remained standing ahead of the game
Billy Vunipola was one of the England players who remained standing at the beginning of the game.
The number eight of Tongan descent was one of three England players who refused to take the knee in England’s 40-0 win against Georgia in the Autumn Nations Cup in November last year.
Speaking at the time, he told The Good, The Bad And The Rugby Podcast: ‘A similar situation happened with the Black Lives Matter movement last week when we were asked if we want to take a knee or not.
‘What I saw in terms of that movement was not aligned with what I believe in. They were burning churches and Bibles. I can’t support that.
‘Even though I am a person of colour, I’m still more a person of, I guess, Jesus.’
Ahead of kick-off, the players lined up in support of the Rugby Against Racism campaign but not all players took part in taking the knee
Courtney Lawes and Luke Cowan Dickie also remained standing during the game tonight.
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.
Vunipola was embroiled in controversy in April 2019 when a post on his Instagram account read ‘Man was made for woman to pro create that was the goal no?’.
The 27-year-old was acting in support of Australia full-back and Christian fundamentalist Folau, who stated on social media that ‘hell awaits’ for ‘homosexuals’.
Vunipola subsequently received formal warnings from the Rugby Football Union and Saracens and he reflects on the episode by stating that although proud to have defended his faith, he would now take a more measured approach.
Scotland’s lock Jonny Gray (L) and England’s lock Maro Itoje compete in the line out during the Six Nations rugby union match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium today
‘I could easily have been, ‘I’m not going to support this’,’ Vunipola said.
‘I didn’t sleep for two or three days after I saw his post because something inside me was saying, ‘Do you actually believe in Jesus Christ or do you not?’ That was the challenge I was battling with, not what Folau had said.
‘It was something that challenged me to step up to a level I’d never been before in terms of, ‘Am I actually going to put myself in a position where people dislike me and ridicule me?’.
‘I didn’t enjoy being ridiculed, I really didn’t. But at the same time what I did find comforting is that I stood up for my faith and I didn’t just fall by the wayside.
‘(Now) I wouldn’t go about it the same way, it would be more of a conversation from my point of view. I’d talk to whoever had any questions.
An eerie silence descended on Twickenham today, devoid of the fans and chants of Swing Low Sweet Chariot ringing round the stadium
‘If it happened again now and I was asked, ‘Billy do you stand in support of it?’ I would have to say yes because I’ve made my position clear.
‘The way Folau came out with it was very abrupt and direct. Sometimes the Gospel is direct.’
Scotland took first blood this evening and went into the second half of the annual Calcutta Cup clash defending a slim 8-6 lead.
Earlier France trounced Italy 50 points to 10 at a similarly quiet contest at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
It’s only a few months since the final fixtures of 2020’s tournament were played after the outbreak of the pandemic in Europe halted the competition last spring.
The Six Nations kicked off with no fans today with England taking on Scotland in the Calcutta Cup at an empty Twickenham stadium
The game will mark the 150th anniversary of the first ever Test, which took place on March 27, 1871 in Edinburgh.
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.
An eerie silence descended on Twickenham today, devoid of the fans and chants of Swing Low Sweet Chariot ringing round the stadium.
But one spectator would have caught the eye of the players – Warren Gatland, head coach of the Lions, who is considering his selection picks for this year’s tournament.
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