Billy Vunipola, the Saracens and England No 8, has explained that he chose not to take a knee in support of Black Lives Matter (BLM) ahead of Saracens' game against Bristol because doing so would contradict his religious beliefs.
The Gallagher Premiership's return last weekend saw a variety of displays against racism, with some teams opting to wear T-shirts or form huddles. However, few Premiership sides as a whole opted to take the knee, aside from Wasps, Harlequins and Leicester Tigers.
Vunipola was one of three players for Saracens who chose not to, alongside South African forwards Michael Rhodes and Vincent Koch, and the No 8 explained why when speaking to the 'The Good, The Bad & The Rugby' podcast, citing the alleged "burning of churches and Bibles" by protesters.
"What I saw in terms of the Black Lives Matter movement was not aligned with what I believe in. They were burning churches and Bibles. I can't support that," Vunipola said. "Though I am a person of colour, I'm still more a person of, I guess, Jesus."
Vunipola also touched on why he spoke out in support of Israel Folau last year, when Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia for homophobic posts on his social media accounts.
Vunipola posted at the time - "Man was made for woman to procreate that was the goal no?" - and was subsequently given formal warnings by the RFU and Saracens. "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."
The number of South African players in the Premiership who opted not to take the knee in support of BLM received attention in their home country, with all eight of the Springboks who started for Sale Sharks against Harlequins last Friday remaining on their feet.
Nathi Mthethwa, the South African sports minister, revealed he had been in touch with SA Rugby president Mark Alexander to understand the players' stance, whilst acknowledging the players had all worn 'Rugby Against Racism' T-shirts.
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