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Why Jackson Garden-Bachop is leading race for Hurricanes No 10 jersey

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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Hurricanes coach Jason Holland has seen fit to make just four changes to the team’s starting line-up for this weekend’s clash with the Brumbies.

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One of those changes is forced by injury, with Salesi Rayasi coming onto the left wing in place of Wes Goosen, while one is due to the return from injury of hooker James O’Reilly, who will take over from Kianu Kereru-Symes at hooker.

That leaves two strategic changes from Holland and the Hurricanes selectors, with the experienced Jackson Garden-Bachop taking over from youngster Aidan Morgan at first five-eighth and the recently returned Isaia Walker-Leawere dropping to the bench for 2021 debutant Justin Sangster.

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Speaking after last weekend’s win over the Reds – which saw the Hurricanes bounce back from a 17-0 deficit shortly before halftime – Holland suggested that the Hurricanes would be simply running with a ‘horses for courses’ approach in the No 10 jersey.

“They’re quite different, the 10s we’ve got, they’re quite different in the way they play, different strengths,” Holland said. “Whoever’s got the attributes that we want and think can win the game against certain opposition we’ll play.”

With Ruben Love still nursing a groin strain, that means it’s a straight shoot-out between Morgan and Garden-Bachop.

“I think Aids is developing really well,” Holland said following the victory. “He’s a confident young man, he’s a really good 10.

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“Jacko came on and put the game away quite nicely too. [They’re] all capable and we’re confident we can throw all of them in.”

After the slow start to last weekend’s game, Holland has evidently decided that Garden-Bachop has the attributes needed to lead the Hurricanes to a strong opening 20 against a Brumbies side coming hot off the back of a win over the Highlanders.

“I know [the media has] talked a lot around how poorly we started and we’re just looking to Jacko to give us a lot of composure and run the game really well early on for us,” Holland said after naming his side for Sunday’s fixture. “And Aids will be pretty dynamic coming off the bench in the back-end of the game.

“It’s probably just a little bit of experience, and a little bit of us needing to be really smart in the early parts of the game on Sunday.”

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Similarly, dropping Walker-Leawere to the bench seems like a move designed to add some extra oomph in the second half while also giving the big man a rest following two strong shifts in his return from injury.

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“It was a pretty nasty injury he got playing for [Wellington club side] Clive a year or so ago and we didn’t think we’d get too much out of him [this season] when he first did that injury so he’s worked really hard at his rehab,” said Holland. “He’s obviously a big dynamic body which we’re really happy with how he’s coming back.

“We’ve got some good competition there in the locks as well. [James Blackwell] is just putting in a performance every week and we’re really happy with Justin Sangster around his physicality and his ability to carry and tackle.

“Again, like I said how Aidan’s going to be dynamic coming off the bench, I’m looking forward to a big impact from the likes of Izzy off the bench this week.”

One position that’s seen some unusual consistency this week is the midfield, where Bailyn Sullivan and Peter Umaga-Jensen have been retained at centre and second-five, respectively.

Holland said the retention of both players is good reward for them given the development they’ve enjoyed in their game, and added that their selections bring a sense of continuity to the team.

“I’m pretty excited every week when I name my midfield, but the consistency part there is nice,” Holland said.

“Both boys played really well [against the Reds], I thought. As I’ve said to you before, really keen for guys to take their opportunities when they play, and both Pete and Bailyn were pretty dynamic and tidied up some of the little parts of their game, but we challenged them to do so, so they get rewarded for that.

“They went really well, and they need to again against a pretty strong Brumbies backline on the weekend.”

Elsewhere, former Blues flanker Blake Gibson earns a start in the No 7 jersey for the fourth game running, which comes as a result of the impression he has made on Holland since making the move from Auckland to Wellington this season.

“He’s a bit of a weapon in and around his physicality and his desire just to get into everything, like a good, old-school seven, I reckon,” Holland said of Gibson.

“He’s massive around breakdown, he’s massive around tackle. He was a little bit disappointed with a couple little parts of his defensive game on the weekend just gone, but he’s been a great addition and there’s definitely a good edge between him and Dups [Du’Plessis Kirifi] around who’s our seven.

“Blake’s really been putting his hand up the last few weeks, so he’s been a great addition. An awesome young man – he’s quiet, but I love the way he wants to play the game. He just wants to smash things, which is refreshing for us as coaches.”

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