Following a week where there was much commentary about how Sale and their large contingent of South African players had lined up prior to their loss at Harlequins, the matter even being raised by politicians in South Africa, Tuilagi was one of five Sharks players who took a knee at the AJ Bell Stadium.
The Sale South African contingent, which included recent World Cup winners Faf de Klerk and Lood de Jager, remained standing but they did wear Rugby Against Racism t-shirts their kneeling colleagues also had on.
Nathi Mthethwa, the South African Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, had sparked a row at the start of this week over how Sale’s South Africans did not take the knee before last weekend’s match to signal support for Black Lives Matter.
Sale boss Steve Diamond described the controversy in midweek as a storm in a teacup. “Four of our players took the knee and that is their entitlement and the rest didn’t,” he said. “It will be a storm in a teacup and we all wore the Rugby Against Racism t-shirts which we thought was important. I don’t think it is too much to worry about if I am honest.”
Prior to the Premiership restart following its five-month layoff for the pandemic, Diamond explained that his players may take the knee or stand wearing a slogan on a t-shirt, saying: “It might look a little bit more like Formula 1, but I don’t want people to jump to conclusions and assumptions that by people not taking the knee that means they are racist.”
England midfielder Tuilagi joined Sale last month following his refusal to agree on a permanent pay cut at Leicester Tigers. His Test team colleague Billy Vunipola was another player who opted last weekend not to take the knee.
Speaking about his decision for Saracens’ match at Bristol, Vunipola said couldn’t agree with some of the incidents the BLM movement had been involved with this summer in America.
“What I saw in terms of that movement was not aligned with what I believe in,” he told The Good, The Bad & The Rugby. “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.”