Premiership rugby resumed on Friday night in controversy after Sale’s squad divided on the issue of taking a knee.

Harlequins, their hosts in what was the first Premiership match back since the sport was put on hold five months ago at an empty Twickenham Stoop, announced in midweek that their entire squad would take a knee before kick-off as part of the Premiership’s new Rugby Against Racism campaign.

But after announcing that their players would “stand together in the face of all discrimination” by wearing anti-racism T-shirts – which they did – Sale saw their squad divided on the matter of taking a knee.

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Four players within their starting XV elected to do so in Marland Yarde, Tom Curry, Simon Hammersley and Sam Hill, with four more replacements also doing so.

But their 11 teammates in the starting line-up chose not to, including the England centre Manu Tuilagi and the eight South Africans named in the Sale side. Welsh prop WillGriff John and Scotland wing Byron McGuignon, born in Namibia, were also among those who chose to stand.

Premiership Rugby were criticised earlier in the week for not taking a lead in deciding the league’s anti-racism position, which saw Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter criticise officials for “hanging the players out to dry”.

In statements issued earlier in the week, Sale Sharks said: “Sale Sharks stand together in the face of all discrimination. To demonstrate this, the entire Sale Sharks matchday squad will be wearing ‘Rugby Against Racism’ t-shirts when the team run out this weekend at the Twickenham Stoop.”

Harlequins said: “Will be supporting Black Lives Matter with the squad taking a knee.”

But Baxter was scathing of allowing each club to decide a different message.

“Just dropping it on clubs and saying, ‘there you go, do what you like’ is like hanging some players out to dry,” Baxter said.

“I don’t know how much positive press players will get if they have a different opinion, which is something we should embrace.”

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