TOKYO • All Blacks loose forward Ardie Savea will become the first player to wear goggles at a Rugby World Cup match today as he battles vision problems that have left him fearful of going blind.
The bruising back-rower, a key player for the two-time defending champions, was not known to have had a sight problem.
But he revealed to reporters that the vision in his left eye was blurred and deteriorating.
When he lines up against Canada in their Pool B match in Oita, he will wear goggles approved by governing body World Rugby earlier this year to allow visually impaired players to play the game.
"A couple of years ago, I realised I had bad vision in my left eye. Everything's kind of blurry," he said. "I told All Blacks doctor Tony Page 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."
Page also insisted the goggles would not be an impediment to his physical style of play even though the conditions in Japan had been "most challenging".
"Humidity at up to 90 per cent, 20 deg C or so, and hard All Blacks training, and he's done pretty well," he said. "It's great to see someone like Ardie putting them on and being proud of it."
They are designed to be safe for both the wearer and those coming into contact with him, and Italy fly-half Ian McKinley, who is blind in one eye, was the first player to wear them at international level.
Savea said it was an easy decision when he realised that he could go blind if his other eye was damaged.
He added: "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"
When asked why the team and Savea had waited until the World Cup to trial the goggles, New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster said: "When a player comes and says he felt his eye was getting worse... it's a very natural time."
But Savea's condition was news to Beauden Barrett, who along with his brothers, lock Scott and utility back Jordie, will today become the first sibling trio to start a World Cup game for the All Blacks. The full-back said "it sort of makes sense" because he had noticed Savea "blinking a bit more than usual" in training and Tests.
Most observers are expecting the All Blacks to steamroll Canada even though coach Steve Hansen has made 11 changes to the side that beat South Africa.
And captain Kieran Read urged the stand-ins, including wing Rieko Ioane and inside centre Sonny Bill Williams, to "nail this game" and put up an even more emphatic scoreline than the 79-15 hammering at the 2011 Cup.
"You gain confidence, trust of guys alongside you, it builds your game," he said of what a resounding victory would do for the team.
"We want to go out there and make sure individually, we're all in a good state."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
NEW ZEALAND V CANADA
Singtel TV Ch141 & StarHub Ch222, 6pm