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Bath star Watson insists players must not be ‘forced’ to take a knee when the Premiership restarts 

Bath and England star Anthony Watson insists players must not be ‘forced’ to take a knee when the Premiership restarts this weekend.

Clubs are offering widespread support for the Black Lives Matter movement and there will also be a minute’s silence for the NHS before kick-offs.

Black representatives from each club came together to discuss the sport’s stance on a Zoom call but Watson, 26, says players must be free to make their own decisions.

‘It’s massively important for rugby to get behind the movement and sport in general,’ said Watson.

‘It’s important to make an impact where you can. You have to give people a choice, because as soon as it is forced on anyone to have to do anything, it becomes pointless.

‘The whole point is for it to mean something. I don’t think anyone should have the option taken away from them. It’s important that it is very individualised. It’s something we will focus on closer to the game. We have spoken about it in micro groups and there has been a heightened awareness of the Black Lives Matter organisation with the movement, which is obviously a positive. We’ll get something in place for sure before the weekend.’

His comments follow the decision of Israel Folau and other Catalans players not to take a knee for personal reasons when Super League resumed this month.

Harlequins will host Friday night’s opening fixture against Sale at The Stoop and their players have been briefed about the measures.

Quins coach Paul Gustard held a meeting – with input from players Aaron Morris and Nathan Earle – and he is confident the movement will be respected.

Gustard said: ‘The player reps have spoken to the group about it individually and we’ve had a team meeting about it this week.

‘We said at the start that it was more important than the tactical information we were about to give.

‘This is a wider situation and we, as a club, have an opportunity to make a statement – to show unity and love for our team-mates, and friends, and take a positive step.’

Sale captain Jono Ross backed up Gustard’s words, insisting his team-mates would take a united stance.

‘As a squad, we are all completely against racism in all forms and I think we will make that clear on Friday night,’ said Ross.

‘I don’t think that anyone in our squad or across the Premiership is racist.’

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