England's Watson defends taking a knee at Six Nations matches

London (AFP) –


Anthony Watson has spoken out in support of England rugby players who have been criticised on social media for taking a knee before last week's Six Nations loss at home to Scotland.

The bulk of Eddie Jones' matchday 23 made the gesture during a designated "moment of reflection" before the 11-6 Calcutta Cup defeat at Twickenham.

Watson said he was dismayed by the negative response of some fans, arguing that athletes must be able to continue showing solidarity for the anti-racism cause.

"I think that if people were educated fully on why kneeling was started, then they would be in a much better place to comment on what we are doing and what is going on," said the Bath wing, who will start Saturday's match against Italy.

"Not everyone who is kneeling is directly associated with the Black Lives Matter organisation because some of their views, in my opinion, are extreme.

"But the importance of kneeling to raise awareness of social injustice is still massively important. So to see people on social media trying to discredit its importance... I can't let that slide."

Watson's comments came after leading England football officials wrote to Twitter and Facebook chiefs urging action to tackle "havens of abuse" after a spate of online racist incidents targeting players.

Premier League footballers have continued to take the knee before matches this season.

During the England cricket team's home series against the West Indies and Ireland last year, players from all teams involved took a knee.

But the gesture was abandoned during England's subsequent home campaigns against Pakistan and Australia, a move criticised by West Indies captain Jason Holder.