When the Blues take on the Hurricanes in Round One of Super Rugby Aotearoa, many interested looks will be cast towards the fly-half channel where All Black star Beauden Barrett is expected to don the blue jersey against his old team with whom he rose to prominence.
Adding some spice to the occasion will be the man lining up opposite Barrett who, while as yet uninitiated on the international scene, has exhibited enough flair and skill to generate interest in the match-up.
Jackson Garden-Bachop (interestingly, cousin of Aaron Mauger) this year commenced his fourth season of Super Rugby, his third with the Hurricanes after starting out with the Rebels in 2017. Barrett’s departure from the Wellington-based franchise catalysed Garden-Bachop’s ascension into the starting lineup and the fly-half will no doubt relish the opportunity to put one over his old mentor.
In terms of physicality, Garden-Bachop is the marginally superior being; standing 6ft tall and weighing 100kg as opposed to the slighter 1.87cm, 91kg Barrett. However, it is not within rugby’s realm of the physical where Barrett exacts his damage on opposition.
Barrett has pace which rivals that of most outside backs with sublime handling and kicking skills to boot. With an advanced number of strings to his bow, there do not appear to have been many defensive systems which the incumbent All Black number 10 cannot defuse. A yard of space is all his feet require to carry him to the try-line at great haste (often untouched in the process) while his hands and honed rugby brain allow him to create scoring opportunities for the players around him.
Garden-Bachop, evidently, harbours ample attacking ability himself and, unlike Barrett, is no stranger to the notion of putting a few bruises on the bodies of those who oppose him. His boot is impressive and pin-point kicking executions have provided his wingers with a number of tries to their names. That being said, he enjoys the running game which he dictates with commendable positional play.
As with most things in the game of rugby, the forwards may be the deciding factor. For all Barrett’s talent, he is not accustomed to playing behind a losing pack, a sensation that Garden-Bachop would have become acquainted with in Super Rugby during his time at the Rebels. If the men up front for the Hurricanes are able to put a stranglehold on their Blues counterparts, thus putting Barrett on the back foot, he may wilt somewhat in the presence of the hard-running of Garden-Bachop with some wind in his sails.
Whatever happens, there is plenty of meat on the bone of this derby and much will depend on the temperament of the two fly-halves on the day. Barrett will have the added burden of reacclimatising to match-day contact after an extensive lay-off from the game since the conclusion of the World Cup while Garden-Bachop has enjoyed an action-packed, albeit short, 2020 Super Rugby season thus far.