OITA, Japan (Reuters) - The fact that the eyesight of All Blacks flanker Ardie Savea had deteriorated so much he needed to wear protective goggles during matches came as a surprise to long-time team mate Beauden Barrett.
The All Blacks said on Tuesday that Savea would wear the goggles in his side’s World Cup Pool B match against Canada in Oita after having suffered blurred vision in his left eye for about two years.
Savea sought advice from All Blacks doctor Tony Page who found some World Rugby-approved goggles that the loose forward will wear them for the first time in a match off the bench against Canada at Oita stadium.
Barrett, who is starting at fullback for the All Blacks, said he had been unaware of Savea’s eyesight issues, despite having spent six years with him at the Wellington Hurricanes.
“It did come as a bit of a surprise to us, because he never complained about it before,” Barrett told reporters ahead of the team’s final training run.
“But it does makes sense. At certain training sessions or in games he would be blinking more than usual. I can remember other scenarios where it does just make sense.”
Assistant coach Ian Foster also said he knew little about Savea’s difficulties beforehand and was unsure if he had worn corrective lenses previously.
He thought the goggles were purely protective.
“He has had a lack of vision in one eye for a while and he just needs them for protection,” Foster said.
“I don’t know too much about the glasses. All I know is that they’re approved by World Rugby and that other players have worn them before.”
The decision to wear the goggles came after the 25-year-old noticed deterioration in the vision of his left eye two years ago and he went to Page about the issue.
“Everything’s kind of blurry,” Savea said in a statement. “I told ... Tony ... that it was getting worse and now we’re doing something about it.
“In terms of vision and seeing, it’s pretty sweet, and it’s now just a matter of getting used to them.”
World Rugby approved the use of protective goggles in May this year.
Italy flyhalf Ian McKinley wore protective goggles after he went blind in one eye in 2011.
He initially retired from rugby but took up the game again in 2014, while playing for a lower level club in Italy before he moved up the ranks and was eventually called into the Italian national squad by Conor O’Shea.
McKinley has played nine tests for Italy since his debut in 2017, including against his native country Ireland in August, but did not make the World Cup squad.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Clarence Fernandez