Highlander Connor Garden-Bachop dies at 25

Connor Garden-Bachop has died age 25. Photo: Getty Images
Connor Garden-Bachop has died age 25. Photo: Getty Images

Highlanders outside back Connor Garden-Bachop has been remembered as a young man with "infectious energy".

Garden-Bachop, a father of two, died of a medical event in Christchurch yesterday. He was 25.

A joint statement from NZR, the New Zealand Māori Rugby Board, the Highlanders, Wellington Rugby and the New Zealand Rugby Players Association said the organisations extended their "deepest thoughts and love to the Garden-Bachop family".

They were "collectively united in our grief", the organisations said.

"Connor was a fantastic young player, an exciting New Zealand age-grade representative and a proud Māori All Black.

"Wherever he played, he was a committed and popular team-mate with infectious energy and someone who could light up the room.

"Most importantly, he was a loving father to his twin girls, a brother, a son and immeasurably loved by all those who knew him."

Highlanders winger Jona Nareki shared this on Instagram.
Highlanders winger Jona Nareki shared this on Instagram.
An NZR spokesman said NZR, the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association and the Highlanders would join forces to support players and staff members shocked by the death.

Mental health and wellbeing teams would be on hand to support the players.

The spokesman said approval from the family would be sought before a potential tribute to Garden-Bachop ahead of the Super Rugby Pacific final on Saturday night.

Several Highlanders players have paid tribute to their team-mate.

Winger Jona Nareki said: "Rest in peace my brother. Love ya my boy."

Captain Ethan de Groot shared his shock on social media.

"I can’t believe it. Love ya mate."

Loose forward Hugh Renton shared a photo of Garden-Bachop and referred to his "infectious smile".

The Highlanders released a statement on behalf of the club as they deal with the tragic news.

‘‘We would like to express the club’s sincerest condolences to all of Connor’s family and friends at this very sad time.

‘‘It is extremely hard to come to terms with the sudden passing of one so young and full of life. Connor was an effervescent character who possessed a broad smile and engaging personality. He will be sorely missed.

‘‘Again, on behalf of the club, we extend our heartfelt sympathies to all those that knew and supported Connor.’’

Fans were also quick to pay tribute to the talented outside back on the Highlanders’ social media.

One wrote: "A true legend gone way too soon. One of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking to. You’ll be missed by a huge number of supporters and family members."

Another said Garden-Bachop was "such a friendly guy, wonderful with fans and really approachable. Huge loss to the world."

Garden-Bachop, who played 35 games for the Highlanders since his debut in 2021, was preparing to play in Japan next season.

The Wellington-raised winger or fullback was the son of former All Blacks and Otago first five Stephen Bachop and former Black Fern Sue Garden-Bachop, who died of cancer in 2009.

He has also represented the Māori All Blacks.

He posted on Instagram three days ago, thanking the Highlanders after five seasons at the club.

"Thank you @highlandersteam for an unforgettable five years. Thank you to everyone in the south for making me feel at home, and thank you to the boys I have been honoured to share the field with, it’s been a pleasure, I will miss you all. Till next time," he said.

Garden-Bachop’s brother, Jackson, is also a professional rugby player. He went to France last year after several seasons with the Hurricanes.