In 2019, Crusaders fans were finally given a sneak peek at the future of the franchise when Jack Goodhue and Braydon Ennor were named to start in the midfield together against the travelling Sharks. The combination had been years in the making but lasted just half an hour on that fateful night before a backline reshuffle was called for as Will Jordan limped from the field.
“He’s been down here a bit longer than I have, so people have almost forgotten that he went to MAGS [Mount Albert Grammar] up in Auckland for his school,” Ennor said to RugbyPass regarding his centres partner.
“It’s funny how we both get those questions, but I think we always look at each other and think we’ve made the right decision by coming down here.”
Goodhue relocated to Christchurch back in 2014 while Ennor made the move two years later, having carefully considered the options.
“I had a little bit of interest from the Blues,” Ennor said, “as well as the Chiefs and obviously the Crusaders.
“I checked out the Chiefs set-up, with the uni as well, and I actually did a day of pre-season with them back in year 12. But I just really liked how the Crusaders and the academy in Canterbury have their relationship with the universities down here – that was a big pull for me.”
The Crusaders’ relationship with its provincial unions, as well as the tertiary institutions, is arguably the strongest relationship between a franchise and its provinces in New Zealand. There’s a very clear pathway visible for any young rugby player hoping to progress through the ranks and eventually break into the Crusaders – but also work on their professional and academic development at the same time.
That pathway is why Ennor eventually settled on the move to Canterbury, away from the warmer climate of Auckland and into the slightly harsher conditions of the South Island.
“It was rugby and life that directed me down to Christchurch,” said Ennor. “My parents were big travellers when they were young, my sister left home and did her uni in Wellington. So I guess it was a bit of a family thing that we all sort of, straight out of school, started to make our own steps in our own lives and our own decisions.
“I made the decision in year 12, halfway through the rugby season. I travelled down and the talent ID manager, Aaron Webb, took me to a Crusaders game in the middle of winter and all I had was shorts and a hoodie, that’s all I was wearing. It gave me a bit of a wake-up call.”
Ennor’s now into his fifth year in Christchurch and, apart from a slight hiccup before he arrived, has gone from strength to strength.
“I tore my ACL near the end of my last season with St Kent’s, the 2015 season,” Ennor said. “So the one year I was on the team that went to the nationals, I didn’t even get to play. I travelled as a water boy – a water boy that couldn’t run.”
“I’ve been gone a decade now but those memories are still embanked right in my core."
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 15, 2020
It wasn’t an ideal start and the fairly major injury could well have put the brakes on Ennor’s progression but Canterbury weren’t put-off, and their response vindicated the young midfielder’s decision to head south.
“It was more than I could ever have asked for really,” Ennor said. “They really took care of me as soon as I came down – individualised sessions and all that sort of stuff which you don’t really expect coming in as a young fella.
“The academy, the Crusaders, Canterbury – they all run under one roof. So I was in the physio getting treated for swelling on my knee after running or whatever, and then Kieran Read would walk in. It was like, ‘Holy hell. Am I meant to be here, I’m not sure?’ It was the same physios that take care of him, taking care of me so I knew that I was in good hands.”
Still, even when you’re in the best of hands, sitting on the sidelines and recovering from an injury is not how any dedicated athlete wants to spend their time, especially when they’ve just moved to the home of arguably the top rugby club on the planet.
Thankfully, Ennor was still able to rehab with Canterbury and his Crusaders and it was at one such rehab session where he met his future coach, Scott Robertson.
“I actually remember to this day, it must have been my third week in Christchurch in 2015,” said Ennor.
“The Crusaders were doing a running block conditioning session out on Malvern Park. I was there for my rehab and Razor [Scott Robertson] comes over, points at me and says, ‘You and Jack in the midfield?’ And that was back in 2015.”
Clearly, Robertson’s decision to partner up Goodhue and Ennor has been a long time in the making, but it wasn’t until this year that the combination was really able to test its wares thanks to the presence of men like Ryan Crotty, Tim Bateman, Rob Thompson and David Havili at Canterbury and the Crusaders.
That logjam of talent is why Ennor was eventually forced out onto the wing.
“I played centre my whole life through school, through club, age grade, whatever it was and then all of a sudden, there are these veterans in front of me and there was just no way I was going to get a shot,” Ennor said.
“So Joe Maddock, the Canterbury coach, comes up to me and he says, ‘What do you think about playing wing?’ I said, ‘Mate, I’ll play whatever you want, just keep me on the field.’ So I turned into a wing and added another string to my bow – and it’s paid dividends in my career.
“2017 was an awesome year to learn off the likes of Robbie Thompson and Tim Bateman. It was really helpful learning the roles of the centres in the bigger grades and also learning what the centre wants from their wing in terms of attack and defence.”
It’s that versatility that certainly played a big role in Ennor earning a call-up to the All Blacks last year – but the 22-year-old has always been targeting a return to the midfield.
“It was always a part of the plan for me, knowing that guys would eventually be rotating out, it’s all part of looking forward to the future,” Ennor said.
“Earlier on, when I wasn’t getting as much of a shot, it was just about biding my time – taking the game time when I could and trying to show my stuff when I got that time on the pitch, but also being a sponge and soaking up as much information as I could from guys like Crotts [Ryan Crotty] while they were still here.
“I was always eyeing up that 13 jersey and I was always having words to Jack, especially nearing the end of the year when Crotts was leaving, I was saying to him, ‘Are you ready to move to 12 for me?’ And then it eventually turned to, ‘Please move to 12 for me.’”
"If you go to Pau, you don’t get rotated too much because every game’s a must-win."
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 20, 2020
With Crotty now playing overseas and Tim Bateman retiring from the professional game, Ennor is the clear choice to wear the Crusaders 13 jersey and has partnered up with Goodhue in four of the Crusaders’ six matches played this season.
“It’s actually working quite well,” Ennor said of Goodhue’s move into the 12 jersey and the pair’s growing midfield partnership.
“Jack and I are quite good mates off the pitch. He heard I’d been alone for five weeks [during New Zealand’s lockdown] and gave me a big video call to check up how I was mentally and that sort of thing. Those little things help to create that connection in the midfield and I feel like I can play off him and he can play off me and all those sorts of things.
“Obviously, I’m still learning to get to that higher level. He’s been through a bit and so he’s been soaking information off Crotty for years now. He’s got that a little bit extra experience and obviously we’re still working together.
The Jack Goodhue/Braydon Ennor midfield has been almost five years in the making and the Crusaders were finally able to regularly unleash the combo in 2020 – and it will almost certainly continue to be utilised in the upcoming Super Rugby Aotearoa competition.
It’s evident from Scott Robertson’s comments to Ennor way back in 2015 that the coach who’s now led the Crusaders to three titles on the trot saw something special in the teenager who was fresh out of high school – and those comments only helped Ennor to push harder.
“I don’t know if Razor remembers that but I definitely do,” Ennor said. “It was always something I held in my mind, knowing that Crotts was eventually going to look overseas.
“What [Robertson] said was pretty amazing, especially with the sort of mindset I was in at the time. I was at the stage where I was starting to learn how to run again because obviously, when you do your knee and you haven’t run for three months, everything feels uncoordinated and you don’t feel like yourself. So to have that little sort of mental boost, that little comment can do a lot for a young guy.”
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