A novelty in the New Zealand-Canada game earlier this week was the sight of flank Ardie Savea wearing a pair of goggles – a first for the Rugby World Cup but surely not the last for the game in general.
Savea is losing vision in his left eye and is wearing goggles to protect his good eye.
Savea has a daughter he wants to see grow up and at age 25 he doesn’t want to abort his international career either.
“I’ve got my little girl and hopefully there will be future kids, so I want to be able to see. I’m just thinking of the bigger picture and trying to protect my eyes,” Savea said.
“If by me wearing these inspires others who are vision impaired to get some, and for them to try out the game of rugby, then it’s a positive all round for our sport.”
Savea is not the first professional rugby player to wear goggles.
That distinction belongs to Italy flyhalf Ian Ian McKinley, who lost sight in his left eye after an unfortunate accident in a club game in 2010 when a teammate’s stud perforated his eyeball in a ruck.
Irish-born McKinley retired from rugby but in 2014 was able to make a comeback after World Rugby approved goggles that had been rigorously tested before being okayed.
McKinley played against the Boks in 2017 wearing the goggles, and for those suffering from vision problems and wanting to play the game, it was a sight for sore eyes.
Former Springbok and Italy coach Nick Mallett served on the committee addressing the goggles issue.
Mallett said that it took eight years before a pair of goggles passed tests to ensure they were safe, not just for the wearer but for players coming into contact with him.
“The rubber wasn’t the problem but the glass had to be tested and retested until it was certain that it would not shatter under a blow,” Mallett said.
“It is a very positive development for players who have eye problems and want to carry on playing or want to start the game.”
Goggles might also be the answer to a number of players who struggle with contact lenses.
I recall one game being stopped so that Jannie du Plessis could search for a lens.
Goggles a good few years ago might also have saved Natal prop Gerhard Harding from a moment of panic on the field in a Currie Cup game in the 1990s.
Harding has sight in only one eye and during a game, while his head was buried in a ruck, the lights tripped on one side of the stadium, the side of his good eye.
When he pulled his head out of the ruck he exclaimed, much to the merriment of his teammates: “Aah no! I’ve gone blind!”