Ardie Savea will make a small slice of history when he runs out for the All Blacks against Canada on Wednesday to become the first player to wear goggles in a Rugby World Cup match. The move, he said, could save him from going blind and potentially help inspire visually-impaired children to take up the game.
The New Zealand loose forward, who discovered several years ago that the vision in his left eye was deteriorating, will sport a pair of specially-designed glasses for the Pool B game in Oita.
Savea, one of the most influential players in the All Blacks squad, said a fear of sustaining damage to his other eye, and subsequently losing quality of life, was behind the decision to wear the unfamiliar accessory. Given his role as a flanker, a position that requires him to put his head into dangerous areas, and the inherent physical nature of the sport, he said he would rather be safe than sorry.
“Obviously if my right eye goes, I might be potentially blind,” Savea said. “I’ve got my little girl and hopefully future kids and a bigger family, so I want to be able to see. I’m just thinking of the bigger picture and trying to protect my eyes.”
The eyewear, which is designed to be safe for both the player wearing them and opposition players, was approved by World Rugby in May following extensive development and trialling.
Savea tested the goggles during All Blacks’ training in Beppu this week without any apparent impairment to his game. “In terms of vision and seeing, it’s pretty sweet, and it’s now just a matter of getting used to them,” he said.
All Blacks doctor, Tony Page, said the 25-year-old was ready to run out against Canada with the goggles on, having successfully tested them in challenging conditions on the training ground. “Humidity at up to 90%, 20C or so, and hard All Blacks training, and he’s done pretty well,” Page said. “It’s great to see someone like Ardie putting them on and being proud of it.”
The Hurricanes star will become the first player to wear goggles in a World Cup, but not the first at international level: Italy’s Ian McKinley wore a pair in a Test match against Ireland in Dublin in August.
Savea said he hoped his decision would give confidence to visually-impaired children around the world to take up rugby. “If by me wearing these inspires them to get some, and for them to try out the game of rugby, then it’s a positive all round for our sport.”