SARU president Oregan Hoskins on Wednesday paid tribute to veteran referee Jonathan Kaplan who will officially retire on November 16 following the Windhoek Draught Tri-Nations Series between Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
The Absa Currie Cup final between The Sharks and DHL Western Province at DHL Newlands two weeks ago was set to mark Kaplan’s swansong following a distinguished refereeing career, but he was subsequently tasked with handling two extra Tests between Zimbabwe and Namibia, and Namibia and Kenya respectively in the next 10 days.
These matches will extend Kaplan’s record as the most experienced Test referee in world rugby to 70 matches and see the wheel turn full circle on a career which began at international level when he made his debut as a Test referee in 1996 in a match between Namibia and Zimbabwe.
“I would like to thank Jonathan for his dedication and commitment to refereeing and for being a true ambassador of the sport on and off the field,” said Mr Hoskins.
“His track record speaks for itself, and I am proud that a referee of his calibre has come through the South African structures. I hope the younger referees follow his lead and emulate the example he has set on and off the field.”
Kaplan, who was the first referee to take charge of 50 Test matches, enjoyed an illustrious career which featured a series of memorable matches, including taking charge of fixtures at the 2003, 2007 and 2011 IRB Rugby World Cups, and fulfilling the role as an assistant referee at the 1999 World Cup.
He also took charge of six Absa Currie Cup finals and three Vodacom Super Rugby finals, and has the additional distinction of being the first referee to take charge of 100 Super Rugby matches.
Kaplan also had the honour of handling British and Irish Lions Series matches during his tenure.
Kaplan looked back fondly on his career and said: “In many respects I am blessed to have had such a long fruitful career and I could not have achieved this on my own, I needed people to support me and Andre Watson (SARU GM Referees) and his team have been great in that respect. The Absa Currie Cup final was a brilliant sendoff, and then to have these two Tests come along in Namibia was almost poetic because I have always had a desire to referee there, so I am really grateful for the opportunity.”
Mr Hoskins wished Kaplan well for his future endeavours saying: “I wish Jonathan well as he takes the next step in his career. His professionalism is admirable and I have no doubt that he will be successful as he pursues a new course off the field. Being a loyal servant to the game I know he will continue to share his vast knowledge with those who seek advice and guidance.”
The Windhoek Draught Tri-Nations Series will mark Kaplan’s last assignment as a professional referee, however, he will continue to take charge of matches within the school structures in the Western Cape going forward.