Billy Vunipola has explained that England players will choose individually how they wish to mark the Black Lives Matter movement before Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Italy.

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The title match in Rome is England’s first opportunity to show solidarity at Test level for the cause following a seven-month interruption to international rugby because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Before the anthems at the Stadio Olimpico, Six Nations organisers have scheduled time for a moment’s silence during which teams are able to demonstrate their support for a Rugby United Against Racism message. This first happened last weekend when the Six Nations restarted with Ireland vs Italy in Dublin.

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Billy Vunipola guests on The Lockdown

Eddie Jones’ squad have been in camp for the past three weeks and their stance on the issue would have been clear at Twickenham last Sunday, only for their annual fixture against the Barbarians to be cancelled.

Vunipola, the Saracens and England No8, revealed that each player is to choose how or if they wish to recognise BLM. “We talked about it the first week we got in and we broached the matter before we were going to play the Barbarians,” he said.

“Like anything in life, it’s a personal choice and the leaders made that clear. They made everyone in the room comfortable with what they wanted to do to mark it and we need to respect each others’ opinions, different or the same. That’s where we’ve left it. You’ll probably see that Saturday. It has been an ongoing discussion, not just a one-off.”

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When the 2019/20 Premiership season restarted in mid-August, Vunipola declined to take a knee because of his opposition to elements of the movement’s protests. The back row of Tongan heritage remained standing before Saracens’ restart defeat at Bristol while his elder brother Mako knelt.

Speaking about that decision the following week, Vunipola told The Good, The Bad & The Rugby podcast: “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.”

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