12 Jan 2014
More than most referees Jonathan Kaplan, born in Durban, educated in Johannesburg and living in Cape Town has been a member of referees' societies - six in all.
He started as a 17-year-old schoolboy in 1984 when the joined the Transvaal Referees' Society (now the Golden Lions). Then he did his army training in Pretoria and joined Northern Transvaal. Then he went to the University of Cape Town and joined Western Province. Then he wandered some more.
His societies with the chairman at the time look like this:
1984: Transvaal Referees' Society. Chairman Gert Bezuidenhout.
1985-86: Northern Transvaal Referees' Society. Chairman: Louis Wessels
1987-90: Western Province Referees' Society: Chairmen: Hansie Schoeman and Paul Dobson
1991-93: Golden Lions Referees' Society. Chairman: Michiel Prinsloo
1994-2001: Natal Referees' Society. Chairmen: Mark Howard Browne and Roger Hay
2002-03: Boland Referees' Society. Chairman: Flip Viviers
2004-13: Western Province Referees' Society. Chairmen: Doug Holwil, Dennis Immelman and Dan de Villiers
The chairmen of South African referees during this time have been Piet Robbertse and Steve Meintjes.
Of the chairmen Gert Bezuidenhout and Hansie Schoeman are dead. But we have something Gert said about Jonathan when Jonathan refereed his 50th Test.
When Jonathan was still at school he said he wanted to become a referee and his mother telephoned Gert Bezuidenhout.
Gert: 'His mother phoned me and spoke about refereeing. She explained that she was not phoning for herself but for her son. That was in 1984 when he was a 17-year-old schoolboy. I took him under my wing. He would go with me to matches when I was refereeing and I could make sure that the older men did not give him a hard time. I would take him one week and Ian Anderson the next.
'I rather lost contact with him after he left Transvaal but I wrote to him for his first provincial match and his first Super Rugby match.
'I congratulate him on a great achievement in a wonderful career.'
Paul: 'I remember a day at the end of referees' course, when Piet Robbertse read out the panels for the coming season. I happened to be looking in the direction of Jonathan and Tappe Henning who were standing together. The disappointment on both their faces was evident. They were crestfallen. It was not long after that that Tappe refereed a Currie Cup Final and Jonathan refereed his first Test. Both of them had great refereeing careers. That was so pleasing.
'I have known Jonathan through most of his career and felt the pride that all South African referees felt at his progress to remarkable achievements. But more than that I have been fascinated by the grasp he has of what he is doing and why he is doing it, as it applied to refereeing as a whole and to a specific match. He is very much a thinking referee and his thoughts are deep and clear. He knows his mind and will state it clearly and without fear. He cannot have achieved all he has achieved without passionate dedication, intelligence and clarity of thought and principles.
'One can only hope that his understanding of refereeing and what a referee needs can be put to the use of many referees in South Africa. He is a treasure chest, waiting to be opened.'
Roger Hay went to Natal from Eastern Transvaal where he had been a referee.
Roger: 'For me the poignant image of an emotional Jonathan Kaplan that was displayed on TV during the National Anthem minutes before the kick-off of this year’s Currie Cup Final spoke volumes of the man. The type of man Vince Lombardi alluded to when he said: “Once a man has made a commitment to a way of life, he puts the greatest strength in the world behind him. It’s something we call heart power. Once a man has made this commitment, nothing will stop him short of success.”
'What a life! What commitment! What strength of character! What a success!
'It was back in the early nineties when I had, for my sins, just been transferred back to Springs that I first heard the name Jonathan Kaplan being bandied about. We never really took anything too seriously that came out of Ellis Park, particularly when they once again crowed and boasted of their next Test referee to join Ian Anderson who was currently on this elite panel. “Just another pretender to the throne!” we crowed back from inside PAM Brink Stadium! But how misguided we were!
For here was a man who thrived and blossomed under the initial tutorship and guidance of Gert Bezuidenhout, the then Chairman of The Transvaal Referee’s Society, and his successor Giel Prinsloo and his experienced team of provincially rated referees. There is no doubt that he also benefitted greatly from the innovative initiative that Gabby Pappas put together with the then Rand Afrikaans University’s Sports Department.
'But Jonathan Kaplan was just as TV critic Zoe Williams thought of the character Hamlet in The Hollow Crown: “Here’s a young man in a hurry, forthright, zealous in a cynical, English sort of way!” Not the sort of endearing trait to have had in refereeing during that time! As frustrating as it may have been for him, and to his credit, he managed to stay below the radar and not get involved in the politics that sadly bedevilled refereeing but rather to be judged on his performance each time he took control of a game. Mark Twain would have been proud of him for he said: “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” So with his positive and co-operative style, his honest and consistent attitude and with his natural talent and flair he broke a lot quicker than most onto the National Provincial Panels.
'But it was not only on the field that he contributed to the game, for he also played an active and constructive role within the Society, particularly when it came to “rulings” & “ diktats” from SARFU, never accepting decisions without first going through a robust debate. Something that went down like a lead balloon in those good old days! It was only when he became a group leader that his true leadership ability manifested itself and which played a huge role in the development and growth of the many young men within his group. Whilst he made sure that they concentrated on the technical aspects of the game and became law perfect he always pointed out that there was an undeniable art to becoming a great referee. And that the art displayed by a referee during a game depended on his own personal qualities!
'With apologies to the great Bill McLaren: “He managed to get them to do a job with masochistic connotation yet with admiral tact and good humour, accept all the flak with good grace and keep them going back for more!”
'Even though a firm foundation had been laid in the Transvaal his game still had a few rough edges and at that time there was no better place to smooth them out than in KwaZulu Natal!
'When I arrived back in Durban in ’96 Jonathan had already been down at the coast for a year and by this time been exposed to an international interchange. He had been on the ground-breaking trip to England's RFU with Phil Botha and Mark Howard-Browne with future Natal referee exchanges in mind. He blew the English rugby fraternity away that gentle whistle tone, calm authority and the genuine rapport he built with the players. His maturity for such a young man was difficult for those assessors of the RFU to believe with Colin High, RFU Referee Development Manager, predicting that it wouldn't be too long before he would see young Kaplan at a World Cup! This positive feedback set in place an annual referee exchange programme with the Natal Rugby Union and ultimately became the cornerstone of the Society’s development programme and contributed to the successful careers of Craig Joubert, Marius Jonker, Stuart Berry and the ten Natal referees who followed him onto the SARFU Referees Panels.
'His influence during his stay in Natal was enormous for he was always ready to lecture and train within the five Sub-Societies. He was loved by the players and coaches and assessors alike. I will forever value the support he gave the Natal Rugby Referees' Society Committee in general and the personal support he gave Phil Botha and me during our time at the helm. He left an indelible place in the heart of all the referees in Natal and I believed we handed him over to the Bolanders in better shape than we received him!
'In South Africa we are blessed with a crop of very talented referees all of whom, if they are honest with themselves, have benefitted from knowing and being associated with Jonathan Kaplan. There are also many young aspiring test referees who have not yet made it onto the national scene that would do well to try and develop the qualities and virtues of this great referee. For it was the basic characteristics of honesty, integrity, communication, confidence, motivation, decisive thinking and of course common sense that ensured a successfully career for Jonathon and if they apply them as effectively as he did will no doubt do the same for them.
'Jonathon Kaplan, the referee of character, maturity and integrity, the great role model and leader has departed from centre stage and will be missed. His talent and presence on the park will be leave a void, but the game of rugby that we love so much has been the better for having him a part of it for over three decades!
'In the words of Steve Maraboli: “You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it fearlessly.” And how well did you do that!'
Giel Prinsloo & Gabriel Pappas
Gabriel was the secretary of the Golden Lions Referees' Society in Jonathan's time
Giel & Gabriel: : 'My earliest memories of him is that he joined the then Transvaal Rugby Referees' Society as a schoolboy from St. David's Linksfield in 1984.
'It was not easy to join at the time as the following will substantiate it: His Mom first phoned the Transvaal Rugby Union offices in an effort to enquire as to how to become a referee only to be told that women do not referee. She then explained that she did not want to referee but her school-going son would like to referee. She was then told that school boys do not referee. Mrs Kaplan however insisted that she be given a contact number of a person from the referees and was given the contact number of Gert Bezuidenhout.
Gert took a personal interest in this schoolboy and ensured that he attended the Society's monthly meeting. Jonathan who was 17 years old got his first match appointment soon after (It was before the next monthly meeting - the fourth sides between Wits and Kempton Park at Wits). It so happened that I (Gabriel) was at the game as I refereed the second sides on the day and took a interest in the game as a lot of my friends that I played inter-faculty rugby with we're in the Wits side.
'Jonathan attended all the monthly society meetings and his Mom used to drive him to the various meeting (and match) venues. She always waited for him in her car in the Ellis Park parking lot. I do recall that I did invite her to come in and sit in the meetings but she preferred to wait in the car.
'Jonathan did very well to such an extent that Gert Bezuidenhout reported that he would be our next test referee and even said so to his Mom.
'Once Jonathan completed his studies in Cape Town he returned to Johannesburg. The policy of the Transvaal Rugby Referees' Society was that any referee that was transferred from a another society would be placed in one league lower than the one he was from where he came from until he was seen and evaluated by the committee. Prof Giel recalls that he was so good that they decided to place him two leagues up. The committee at the time deemed him so good that they nominated him as a potential provincial candidate but the request was declined by the SA referees as they deemed him to be too young (a similar decision was earlier taken regarding a certain referee named Ian Anderson, who became a Test referee.)
'Jonathan was determined to get to the top and without the knowledge of the Transvaal Rugby Referees' Society committee through Dr Luyt he organised that he be allowed to go to the UK to referee matches in the off season. He eventually got onto the South African panels in 1993. His first match to my knowledge involving an international side was between a visiting New Zealand Maori side against Vaal Triangle in Sasolburg.
'Jonathan left the Transvaal Rugby Referees' Society and was transferred to KwaZulu Natal where he became an international referee .
'We were very proud of his achievements over the years as we followed his career with interest especially after the tragic loss of our beloved and talented Ian Anderson in a motor accident. Jonathan and Ian were very good friends and colleagues and as the youngsters of the SA panels were our pride and joy.'
Louis: 'I first met Jonathan Kaplan when he was just starting his career as referee. From the outset his knowledge of the laws was impressive. Doubt was initially expressed whether he had the makings of a top referee.
'As far as I was concerned he was always a notch or two above the average. His performances, when he started being noticed, were always those of a man who understood the laws. and the interpretation and application thereof.
'As an assessor I had the privilege of assessing him on a number of occasions. He impressed me in every match he handled. He made few mistakes and was always economical in the awarding of penalties. His handling of players on the field-of-play was always exemplary. He did not brook any nonsense and players were never in any doubt about what he expected from them.
'Jonathan Kaplan was, in my opinion, one of the real greats in the refereeing world. The fact that he handled a record number of Tests confirms this. He is probably the best exponent of the art of refereeing in his time and certainly amongst the top two or three referees this country has ever produced.
'Thanks for the enjoyment and the memories. Jonathan, I am sure you will be an excellent teacher for future referees in South Africa.'
Dennis: 'I have had the honour as well as privilege to have been the Chairman, of what I believe to be the most dynamic and successful referees' society in the world, the Western Province Rugby Referees' Society. that included the Ralph Burmeisters, Paul Dobsons, Freek Burgers and what must most certainly be one of its most successful and famous sons Jonathan Kaplan.
'When Paul Dobson contacted me and asked if I would write something about JK, I agreed without hesitation. Though it was only when I sat down to do so that the thought came to mind, what does one say about JK that has not been said about him already. Only then does it really come to mind how phenomenal his achievements have been. His career and achievements speak for themselves and I believe, will not easily be surpassed
'What I learnt of Jonathan during my tenure as Chairman as well as my dealings with him as a National Selector and Match Reviewer was the absolute dedication and passion he showed towards his sport of refereeing. Notwithstanding his achievements and accompanying status achieved as a result of his success in refereeing, he always remained humble and a servant of the game.
'His attitude in discussion after been reviewed in a match was always with respect and gratitude and never been a yes-man but enquiring and respecting when discussing, but never arrogant, more so in an atmosphere of learning to improve performance
After making his intentions of his retirement public and advising that 2013 would be his swan song , he could so easily have just gone through the motions of taking it easily to end of his career, but that’s not in JK’s nature or ever been part of his work ethics. He consistently delivered, what I personally believe, performances of such high such quality, that if he continued would still have been rated amongst the top performers in his class.
'But such is the quality of the man that he stood by his decision to retire and he did that on a high and in the way which his class reflected and the way in which I believe he would have liked all rugby loving people to remember him.
'JK, success in all your doings, future plans and dreams you still aspire to achieve! Your journey has truly been an amazing and inspiring one and I am genuinely so honoured and pleased that I could have played a tiny part in it.
'God bless you my friend.'
Dan de Villiers
Dan: 'It is good for us to acknowledge and congratulate Jonathan Kaplan on his appointment to referee in this year's Currie Cup Final. It was his sixth; only André Watson has refereed more. This was a just reward for a lifetime of service to the game, and what made it even more noteworthy was the fact that he retired from top-flight refereeing at the end of the game.
'Jonathan leaves professional refereeing at a high point of a long and distinguished career, still the most capped Test referee with 70 matches under his belt.
'We are honoured to have a referee of his calibre in our Society and I am sure that we have not seen of heard the last of this man in Western Province.'
Stephen: 'Jonathan Kaplan – one of the finest rugby referees that the world has seen, a man who in his illustrious career has broken every record achievable and has set new levels for young and aspiring referees to attain.
'But that is not what his career was about. On many a Saturday one would find Jonathan refereeing either a schoolboy game in the morning or a club game in the afternoon.
This is what “Kappers” brought to the game. His belief and ambition to participate in improving the game from grassroots level, I believe, is what drove his desire to referee at every possible opportunity irrespective of the level of seniority of the game. And what better way for the rugby playing world to achieve this than by having a referee of his ability and skills to do so. In this way he gave of his experience and knowledge back to the game and to all involved from players, spectators, parents and more importantly to other referees.
'Another side of him not known to all, is the special level of friendship that he fostered with many. I will never forget the many hours that we spent in conversation whether over a cup of coffee or on the phone, discussing the game in its broadest manner, the administration of the game and of refereeing, and more importantly on non- rugby related matters. He was a role model to many up and coming referee, always willing to answer questions that they had and to guide and assist them solve technical problems that they encountered on the field.
'It is extremely difficult to pay tribute to a man whose refereeing career has spanned 30 years, and included three IRB Rugby World Cups. We can only salute him for this remarkable achievement and for what he has “ploughed back into the game!”
'Jonny, many thanks for the years of friendship from the touch lines at the many club games in the late 1980’s where we stood together watched and discussed club games and refereeing them, through to 2013 where we figuratively “stood on the touchlines of the game” still watching and discussing the art of refereeing together.
'Thank you for the years of friendship, advice and support.'