Jackson Garden-Bachop scores his try in this year’s Jubilee Cup final. Norths beat Petone 23-20. PHOTO: Andy McArthur.
- By Steven White
A statistic that came up after this past weekend’s ninth and final round-robin weekend of the National Provincial Championship revealed that Wellington Lions first five-eighth Jackson Garden-Bachop has kicked the most conversions of any kicker in the past three decades [since 1990] of top-flight NPC rugby.
The Norths first five’s fourth conversion against Counties Manukau on Sunday was his 182nd for Wellington, surpassing the 181 that former Poneke first five David Holwell kicked in his combined career for Wellington and Northland.
“One of the boys brought that up with me at training early this week, that was a record I didn’t know was coming so it was pretty cool to see, “Garden-Bachop told Club Rugby as the team prepares for this Saturday afternoon’s home quarter-final against Hawke’s Bay.
Garden-Bachop, who celebrated his 28th birthday on Monday, is also Wellington’s most capped active player heading into this Saturday’s match with 86 first-class appearances to his name for the province.
He is in a better position than most to answer what it is going to take to beat Hawke’s Bay for the second time this season and progress to the semi-finals?
“It was only three weeks ago since we last played them, so I don’t know how much can change in terms of how the teams play overall. I think what we nailed last time was our kick strategy, we played in the right areas of the field and suffocated them into some mistakes, and we were also really physical on both attack and defence.
“Their forward pack is really good, they are full of Super Rugby players, and if you let them get on top of you their backline can light it up – so we have to do that again on Saturday.”
Continuing the statistics theme, Garden-Bachop has also now scored 667 points for Wellington in first-class rugby, earlier in the round moving past both Holwell (615 points in 61 matches) and Simon Mannix (648 points in 83 matches) to place fifth on the all-time list of points scorers for Wellington A/Wellington Lions.
The players ahead of him are Allan Hewson (893 points in 108 games), John Gallagher (797 points in 88 games) Mick Williment (748 points in 108 games) and Jon Preston (682 points in 73 games).
Garden-Bachop said it was a heady couple of weeks winning the Ranfurly Shield off Hawke’s Bay and then retaining it in emphatic style against Waikato.
“It was a special couple of weeks. That was my third crack at it, and both previously were also against Hawke’s Bay. It is hard to get a chance to play for it, and then to nail the two games we had and to win it and defend it is credit to the squad at the moment and all the hard work that the boys are putting in.”
He said after the early season losses to Canterbury and Northland, the Lions have been gelling together. “We were building nicely and the Ranfurly Shield came at the perfect time for us, and brought massive energy to the group, both in the week that we won it and then in defending it.”
Jackson’s younger brother by four years Connor is also in the squad alongside him, while their father Stephen is a former leading first-class player who played for both Otago and Canterbury but was never in a winning Ranfurly Shield team.
“He had a Ranfurly Shield challenge the day my mum went into Labour with me!”
For the record that was playing for Otago in a heartbreaking 22-20 loss to Canterbury and Stephen Bachop was a try-scorer for Otago that day as well. Despair turned to delight when Jackson entered the world some hours later.
With 86 caps, Jackson Garden-Bachop is currently 35th equal on the list of All-time Wellington A /Wellington Lions most capped players, alongside Tu Wylie and Mike Clamp.
Wylie was a first five, like Garden-Bachop, and only Ian Stevens (112 appearances) and John Dougan (99) played more matches for Wellington A from the same position. Stevens, the 1968 Billy Wallace Trophy Wellington club rugby Best & Fairest winner, also played many of his matches at halfback.
Of current teammates, Dane Coles and James Blackwell are both in the low 70s.
In club rugby, Garden-Bachop played a leading role in Northern United’s march to the 2022 Jubilee Cup title.
He joined Norths later in the first round to play in six of their last seven matches this year, the one match of these he missed they lost 28-42 to Petone.
Norths met Petone again in the final, and turned the tables on that result to prevail 23-20 in the decider at home at Porirua Park on 23 July. Garden-Bachop scored 13 points that day and together with halfback TJ Perenara was a key figure in the final.
“In terms of club rugby memorable matches, I couldn’t go past this year’s Jubilee Cup final – that stands out as a favourite match for Norths for me.”
Perenara to Garden-Bachop for his try in this year’s Jubilee Cup final.
Garden-Bachop has scored 973 points (as per this website’s database) in 98 appearances for Norths in Premier club rugby.
He also looks back fondly on his school career for Scots College.
He made the New Zealand Secondary Schools team in 2012 and was named the College Sport Wellington boys’ rugby player of the year. The previous five winners of this award had been Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Julian Savea and Buxton Popoalii – all fellow Super Rugby players.
He didn’t miss a match in four seasons of playing in the Scots College first XV and he said he still follows the team throughout the year.
Garden-Bachop has missed out on a Super Rugby contract with the Hurricanes in 2023.
He isn’t able to reveal yet what his plans are for next year, but it is highly likely he is going overseas soon, adding that if in New Zealand he will definitely be keen to play for the Lions.
He is also sitting on 98 caps for Norths in Premier club rugby and reaching 100 matches for them is a goal.
Garden-Bachop is married with two young children, while himself and Connor also have a stepbrother, Toby, and a half-brother, Beau.
“At some point it is a dream of mine and my brothers, Connor, Toby and Beau, to one day play a game all together.
“Toby is 21 and has previously played for the Norths Colts and Senior 1s. The youngest Beau is aged eight though, so that one is at least a decade away. I will be pretty old by then too but I might be able to push it.”
For now, Jackson, Connor and the Lions are pushing to progress further in the NPC if they can defeat Hawke’s Bay on Saturday.
Wellington Lions v Hawke’s Bay. National Provincial Championship Odds Pool 1 v 4 Quarter-final. Wellington Stadium, Saturday 2.05pm.