Newly capped Barbarians player Ian McKinley is one of hundreds of visually impaired players around the world currently enjoying the benefits of wearing World Rugby-approved rugby goggles.

For the past 16 months, 24 unions have being taking part in a trial of the goggles, which allow players who need to wear corrective lenses to do so safely. In addition, the goggles may also be used by people like McKinley who suffer from chronic eye conditions.

McKinley, once a top prospect at Leinster, was forced to retire from rugby in 2011 after losing the sight in his left eye following an injury initially sustained playing club rugby the year before.

The 25-year-old endured a long spell out of the game, and it was only when his brother, Phillip, came across the Italian-designed goggles that he felt able to return to rugby with any confidence.

Professional contract

From playing in Serie C in Italy with Leonorso, McKinley earned a professional contract at Viadana and, within six months, the former Ireland under-20 player was named vice-captain of the Eccellenza club.

Another chapter was added to McKinley’s inspirational story in the Scottish Borders on Tuesday when he turned out for the Barbarians as a second-half replacement against Heriot’s in a match to commemorate both clubs’ 125th anniversaries.

“I’ve been using goggles for over a year so I’ve had good use out of them. It’s certainly a challenge, I’m not going to lie,” he said.

“There are a few technical things that as a player I’ve had to change – not only through the goggles but through the loss of sight in one eye – but at the end of the day if it wasn’t for the goggles I wouldn’t be on the field, at all.

“It’s a nice reward getting games like this for the Barbarians, it gives you that little bit more motivation to keep working on what you’re doing.”

McKinley played the final 25 minutes of the 20-try extravaganza which the Barbarians won 97-31.

“You enjoy every minute of being back on the field because you know what it is like to have it temporarily taken away,” he said.

“Sometimes I get ‘blind-sided’ and might not see everything but it’s an exciting challenge for me to keep working on things like my peripheral vision to try and improve and be the best that I can possibly be.

“If I am playing professionally in Italy and getting selected for the Barbarians I must be doing something right, and that gives you confidence.”

Safety first

The success or otherwise of the global law trial will determine whether rugby goggles will be permitted to be worn beyond the trial period and, in his experience, McKinley sees no reason why this shouldn’t be the case.

“The thing World Rugby are looking for is player safety – that the player wearing them and the other players around them are not adversely affected. I’ve played in 24 games for Viadana this season, and now the Barbarians, and there hasn’t been one incident so that’s been really positive.”

Aesthetically, though, McKinley feels there is still room for improvement.

“The designer of the goggles is aware of the issues and is tinkering with the design all of the time based on the feedback he receives from Florian Cazenave and I.

“Florian is a former Perpignan and France under-19 scrum-half who lost the sight in his left eye after a domestic accident and now plays in the league below me in Italy.

“It is quite remarkable to think that someone who I played against before in the U20 Six Nations and has the same background to me only lives half an hour away.”

Did you know?

  • There are 525 players registered for the rugby goggles global law trial
  • 24 Unions are taking part in the trial
  • The trial involves World Rugby working with the manufacturer Raleri, the University of Ulster and Italian eye-wear test institute Certottica.
  • World Rugby also are involved in research on other equipment for rugby including GPS units, padded clothing and artificial turf. 


Photo credit: SNS Group/SRU