Cape Town – Could Keagan Johannes be the flyhalf solution that the Blue Bulls have been looking for ever since Handré Pollard left Pretoria in 2019?
The Pretoria side have operated mainly with Chris Smith in the No 10 jersey over the last few years, and signed Johan Goosen in 2021 to provide a different option.
But Goosen has been moved to fullback over the last few rounds of the Currie Cup, with Smith at flyhalf – while veteran Morné Steyn, who will start in the pivot position this weekend, is retiring at the end of the season.
So, there needs to be depth created in the pivot position ahead of next season’s United Rugby Championship and Champions Cup.
And considering the quality available to Jake White at scrumhalf, where Embrose Papier is in top form, Zak Burger has proven himself several times and Bernard van der Linde is a classy youngster, perhaps giving Johannes more game-time at first receiver is worth exploring.
The 23-year-old’s stock has risen so much this season as a scrumhalf that he is now deservedly ahead of Burger and Van der Linde in the pecking order, and will feature off the bench again in Saturday’s must-win Currie Cup clash against the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld (3pm kickoff).
“It would be great in the future to get a run there (at flyhalf), but for now, my main focus is to stay in the number nine jumper and make the jersey mine. We will see what the future holds…” Johannes said this week.
“At the beginning of the season, I didn’t play much. But just behind the scenes, working hard and sticking to what you need to do. I feel that Coach Jake is always someone who does look behind the scenes and what you are up to.
“So, when that chance presents itself, you have to be ready and show him that you are worthy of playing there, and that you can still keep that position whenever there is pressure from behind.
“We are a young group of scrumhalves, but I feel like all four of us are unique in what we do – we all have that stand-out thing. But I feel like we complement each other at training, with what we can work with – so whatever someone’s lacking, we try to help him with that. We are a very close group of scrumhalves and work hard together.”
Johannes has dove-tailed superbly with Papier during the domestic competition, where their kicking out of hand has been a significant improvement in their respective games, in addition to their lethal speed with ball-in-hand and service from the base.
But they will have their hands full in countering the Cheetahs’ big kicking game, despite the absence of veteran Ruan Pienaar due to a family bereavement.
“Both of us (Johannes and Papier) have been working very hard. No one specifically came in and worked with us – we’ve been pushing each other hard in training and trying to improve our skills, especially in that aspect of the game. So it’s good that our hard work is being seen and paying off,” said the young halfback from Mamre on the Cape West Coast.
“I think you’ve seen it with Embrose over the last few weeks, and he’s really taking chances around the rucks and having more runs (as well).
“So, we definitely have freedom in our structure, to try and do what we can, what makes us special. We do still have our freedom, and Coach Jake backs us with whatever we can do.”