Kaplan makes test rugby history

13 March 2009

South Africa’s Jonathan Kaplan will make rugby history this weekend when he becomes the first referee to take charge of 50 internationals. SA Rugby’s manager of referees, Andre Watson, commented: “This is equal to a player playing 100 tests for his country.”

Kaplan will celebrate his half-century when he takes charge of the Six Nations clash between Scotland and Ireland at Murrayfield in Edinburgh on Saturday.

He made his test refereeing debut in 1996 and became the most-capped referee in history in November 2008 when he took charge of the clash between France and Argentina in Marseilles. It was his 47th test match.

Kaplan’s achievement, says Watson, is “truly remarkable”.

“Players play on average 12 test matches a year, whereas referees get on average four, maybe five, appointments a year. This indicates how long Jonathan has been around on the world scene.


“I cannot think of a nicer and more humble guy to achieve this remarkable feat. He has always shown the potential to become a ‘great’ and he has achieved this status while he is still active, which makes him a living legend in my view. I trust the rugby world will join me in raising a glass to salute Jonny,” he added.

Kaplan’s fellow referee, and also one of the world’s best, Craig Joubert, commented on the SA Referees website: “JK, a significant milestone and number that was once thought to be unattainable. Your 50th test match this weekend is a tribute to your longevity at the very top level for the better part of the last decade.”

Louis Mzomba said: Congratulation JK, you earned your innings. ‘One is never born great. It is the determination and the action that make one great. Status is not achieved by chance, but by deliberate effort and labour.'”

Mark Lawrence hoped that players would recognise Kaplan’s contributions too. “50 Not out! Congratulations on a remarkable achievement. We hope you have a memorable match and that the players will stand back and make you run on to the pitch, first, so that the spectators can give you a standing ovation on our behalf.”

Role model

Kaplan is a role model for young referees, said Andre Watson, and those wanting to take up refereeing. “He is an example to young referees, not only for achieving the magical number 50, but the way he performs weekend in and weekend out.

“Jonathan started out whilst still at school and his desire to get better and better eventually took him to the top of the sport.

“SA Rugby is presently busy with a recruitment campaign and we are looking for the Jonathan Kaplans of the future to ensure that South Africa continues to produce world class match officials,” Watson said.

Apart from his vast experience at international level, Kaplan has also refereed four Currie Cup finals – the biggest stage in South African domestic rugby.

Best test experience

He regards his best test experience as the Bledisloe Cup showdown between New Zealand and Australia in Wellington in August 2000. In an enthralling tussle, Wallaby captain John Eales kicked a last-minute penalty to win the game and the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations for Australia.

“At the time, I was very green in terms of test match experience so it really tested my ability,” remarked Kaplan.

Other memorable moments that Kaplan recalls are the 2007 Rugby World Cup semi-final between England and France, at which he says there was an “awesome atmosphere”; all Bledisloe Cup matches, British and Irish Lions tests in Australia and New Zealand, and “breaking the test match record in November last year”.

A match between two of rugby’s lesser lights also was a special one for Kaplan. ‘The scenes after Japan drew with Canada at the 2007 World Cup were hugely emotional for Japanese players and support staff, with many of them openly crying their eyes out and then proudly carrying a huge flag around the field,” he recalled.

Asked about humorous moments in his career, Kaplan says they occur every time he gets knocked over by players.


The list of players he has enjoyed refereeing, and the reasons for that, make for interesting reading because it indicates just how long Kaplan has been at the top. He said: “I enjoyed refereeing Todd Blackadder, as he was a very humble man for what he achieved; George Gregan and Andrew Mehrtens, who were pretty smart players; John Eales, who always carried himself with grace; and Tana Umaga, with whom I had a strong mutual respect, with and for.

“In South Africa, I enjoyed Corne Krige, Naka Drotske, John Smit, Helgard Muller, Victor Matfield and Tiaan Strauss for their leadership and the rapport that we have or had.”

The success of referees like Jonathan Kaplan has helped the SA Rugby Referees recruitment campaign, which was launched in 2008, with the aim of increasing the number of amateur referees in South Africa.

“Since the launch of the campaign there has been a marked increase in the number of new referees,” said SA Rugby Manager of Referees Andre Watson.

“People interested in taking up refereeing can send their details to refs@live.co.za or visit www.sareferees.co.za.”

SAinfo reporter

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