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Highlanders rookie's debut Super Rugby campaign over before it begins

By Alex McLeod
Connor Garden-Bachop in action for Canterbury U19 in 2017. (Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)

The Highlanders have been dealt a blow ahead of the 2020 Super Rugby campaign, as rookie recruit Connor Garden-Bachop has been ruled out of action for the entirety of next season.


A lower back injury first sustained by the 20-year-old in February has continued to persist, and a decision has been made for the youngster to undergo surgery ahead of Christmas to fix the issue.

As a result, Garden-Bachop – younger brother of Hurricanes first-five Jackson – is facing a recovery period of six to seven months, meaning he won’t be available for selection again until at least next June.

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It’s a particularly cruel break for the Wellington outside back, who was in line to make his Super Rugby debut after being named in the Highlanders’ 2020 squad last month.

“It’s tough on Connor as I know he was extremely excited by the prospect of pulling on the Highlanders jersey for the first time,” Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger, who is also Garden-Bachop’s cousin, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“However, it’s the right decision, his back has been preventing him from training fully, he is still a very young player and it’s in his best interests to get it sorted now so we can rehab him well through the Super [Rugby] season, then he can come back strong through the Mitre 10 [Cup] competition later in the year.”

In his absence, the Highlanders have drafted in Tasman Mako outside back Tima Fainga’anuku.


The hard-running wing, who is the older brother of Crusaders youngster Leicester, is a former New Zealand U20 representative who was part of the world champion side which won in Georgia two years ago.

After playing for the Crusaders last year and Top 14 club Perpignan on a short-term contract during the 2018-19 season, the 22-year-old returned to Tasman this season and was a standout player in their undefeated run to the Mitre 10 Cup title.

He could make his debut for the Highlanders as early as February 7, when they host the Sharks in their season-opener at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

In other news:

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Shaylen 4 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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Jon 10 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Ioane is going to be more than good enough to lock up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

36 Go to comments
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