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Highlanders welcome back exciting youngster for Crusaders clash

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

The Highlanders have welcomed back exciting youngster Connor Garden-Bachop from a long-term injury for this weekend’s clash against the Crusaders.


The match will be the first Garden-Bachop has played for the Highlanders since last year’s extra-time defeat at the hands of the Chiefs after a broken wrist ruled him out for the remainder of his side’s 2021 Super Rugby campaign.

That injury brought a premature end to a standout debut season for the 22-year-old outside back, who was a strong contender for the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa Rookie of the Year title after some impressive performances on the right wing and at fullback.

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It’s in the No 15 jersey where Garden-Bachop will line up for the Highlanders this Friday as one of only two changes made to the starting lineup by head coach Tony Brown following their Super Rugby Pacific season-opening loss to the Chiefs last week.

Garden-Bachop’s selection at fullback has forced Sam Gilbert onto the right wing in place of Mosese Dawai, while midfielder Thomas Umaga-Jensen has been named to start at second-five in place of Scott Gregory.

Umaga-Jensen impressed with his efforts off the bench in his side’s 26-16 defeat to the Chiefs, and has duly been rewarded as he looks to continue his highly-touted midfield partnership with two-test Tongan international Fetuli Paea.

Only one further change has been made in the reserves, with loose forward Hugh Renton filling the No 23 jersey vacated by Umaga-Jensen.


New recruit and former Crusaders hooker Andrew Makalio (calf) is the only player unavailable due to injury.

Friday’s South Island derby will be the Highlanders’ first under the roof of Forsyth Barr Stadium this season, although no fans will be in attendance under New Zealand’s current red light Covid setting.

In a statement, Brown said he was disappointed his side’s first game of the year at their home ground will be played behind closed doors, but remained optimistic about the attendance of fans in the future.

“Naturally we would love to be playing our first home game in front of a packed stadium, we love it when Forsyth Barr is full and really thrive off the energy from our fans,” he said via a statement.


“However, we know we got a job to do and will be focused on that this weekend. We’re hopeful that we will get back to playing in front of a full stadium soon.”

Kick-off for Friday’s match between the local rivals is scheduled for 7:05pm.

Highlanders team to play the Crusaders

1. Ethan de Groot
2. Liam Coltman
3. Jermaine Ainsley
4. Manaaki Selby-Rickit
5. Josh Dickson
6. Shannon Frizell
7. James Lentjes (vc)
8. Gareth Evans
9. Aaron Smith (c)
10. Mitch Hunt (vc)
11. Josh Timu
12. Thomas Umaga-Jensen
13. Fetuli Paea
14. Sam Gilbert
15. Connor Garden-Bachop


16. Rhys Marshall
17. Daniel Lienert-Brown
18. Josh Hohneck
19. Bryn Evans
20. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u
21. Folau Fakatava
22. Marty Banks
23. Hugh Renton


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