Boks to play against a man who stared adversity in the face
The Springboks are likely to face one of the game’s most inspirational figures this weekend.
You would be right if you thought that Ian McKinley does not sound particularly Italian‚ because he has been naturalised. McKinley‚ who was born in Dublin‚ did not set out to one day tell a tale of triumph over adversity but his story will resonate with anyone who has defied the odds.
In short‚ McKinley lost an eye after a teammate’s stray boot knocked him in the face in 2010.
He retired but made an unlikely comeback in 2014‚ not just playing socially but again playing professional rugby before remarkably joining the Test ranks earlier in November.
The flyhalf is not exactly unobtrusive‚ because he has to wear protective goggles to safeguard his remaining vision.
As a young man his future was very much in Ireland, where he represented the country at under-20 before going on to play for Leinster.
The injury‚ however‚ took him out of the game for six months‚ although he was told it would take a year. Shockingly‚ upon his return, he was gouged twice in his good eye.
"That’s actually the reason I wear goggles‚" he told The Guardian newspaper.
The affected eye’s retina detached 18 months after the initial injury and he was forced to retire. He moved to Udine to coach youth teams and had no intention of playing again.
Things changed dramatically for him‚ however‚ when Italy became one of the few countries to trial a World Rugby initiative for the use of goggles.
He has not looked back.
He has since represented Benetton Treviso and Zebre, but bigger things beckoned.
Italy coach and countryman Conor O’Shea called him up for the team’s first autumn international against Fiji a couple of weeks ago. McKinley’s remarkable return to play was complete and his is a story O’Shea conceded "is a movie in itself".