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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.

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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.”

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

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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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Turlough 3 hours ago
'Let them keep talking' - Mike Catt claps back over Bok remarks

“You want that – not hatred – but whatever it is that stirs it all up. It’s good.” Agree with this. If you can put a common motivating idea in all your players heads during a game it can produce a real Team perfromance. Erasmus is pretty expert at this. It is quite clear that the comments by Etzebeth, Allende and others were not coincidence and were actioned to create animoisty before the series in order to galvanise the South African mind set. While I understand it, I don’t like it. They result in unnessary vitriol between supporters and for what? I don’t think any of the SA players seriously believe any of these claims and with Ireland ignoring them Erasmus won’t get the escalation he seeks. The vitriol shown by some SA and indeed NZ supporters is extremely weird for NH supporters (OK, maybe England have felt it) but it just feels very odd over a sport. Ireland were more or less sh1t for the first 100 years of their rugby, they have improved significantly in the last 25 to be in a position around now (it may not last) to go into a match with the big guns with a real shot of winning. The reaction to this from some SH supporters has been bizarre with conspiracy theories of ‘Arrogance’ fueling abuse from supporters and even NZ players to Irish crowds during the world cup. I love International rugby and the comraderie between supporters. I genuinely dread and dislike the atmosphere around games with the southern giants. They take this very personally. NH teams: play them, try and beat them, enjoy the craic with their players and supporters and wish them well. SH teams wish them well and they call you arrogant in the press months later. Its just a matter of try and beat them and then good riddance til the next time.

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