Highlanders' heartfelt tribute to Garden-Bachop

The Highlanders have posted a heartfelt tribute to Connor Garden-Bachop, who died this week aged just 25. 

The club paid tribute to the young outside back, described as "a man of many talents, culture and heart".

"You’d light up the room like you’d light up the rugby field, you’d serenade us with your musical talents, you’d lead the team song, crack us up with your jokes and energy," the tribute read. 

"We were so lucky to have you don the blue, gold and maroon jersey, you put away 35 games for us and you’d get over the line 7 times.

"Community champ in 2020, and you took the rookie of the year award in 2021. Your contribution and presence in this team will live on in Highlanders legacy.

"Thank you for your time brother, rest in love."

Garden-Bachop, a father of two, died following a medical event in Christchurch on Monday.

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."

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 paid tribute to their team-mate yesterday.

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 in which they expressed the club’s condolences to the player’s family and friends.

"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.

Connor Garden-Bachop after a Highlanders game against the Rebels in Melbourne in April this year....
Connor Garden-Bachop after a Highlanders game against the Rebels in Melbourne in April this year. Photo: Getty Images
"Again, on behalf of the club, we extend our heartfelt sympathies to all those that knew and supported Connor."

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

He represented the Māori All Blacks twice in 2022.

Garden-Bachop 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, the nephew of former All Blacks halfback Graeme Bachop, and the cousin of former Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger.

The winger or fullback posted on Instagram four days ago, thanking the Highlanders for his time 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 who went to France last year after several seasons with the Hurricanes. Sister Georgia was a national age-group hockey representative who heads the Kiwi Athletes Agency.