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SA Refs say Totsiens to Kaplan

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Jonathan Kaplan is not stopping refereeing, something he has done for 30 seasons and at which he has had magnificent achievements but he will no longer be refereeing Test or provincial matches. We are publishing tributes.

We hope to publish them in three tranches - one from his South African contemporaries, then from his overseas contemporaries and then from the various chairmen of the referees' societies he belonged to.

That he deserves accolades is certain.

On the international front , at the end Kaplan had refereed more Tests than any other referee in the history of the game. His 70 Tests is three more than Alain Rolland who is retiring at the end of the season. He was the first referee to 50 Tests. Others have followed - Rolland, Steve Walsh, Stuart Dickinson, Wayne Barnes, Nigel Owens and Chris White. There was a stage whine Derek Bevan of Wales set a record at 44, but there are now far more opportunities for referees to referee Test matches.

In brief the records show that he refereed more Super Rugby matches (107) and more Currie Cup matches (161) than anybody else. He has refereed 13 matches at the four World Cups that he attended - in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011, including the semifinal between England and France in 2007. Kaplan refereed three Super Rugby Finals and six Currie Cup Finals, including this year's at Newlands, his last match as a professional referee in South Africa. In all refereed 425 first class matches and 1040 matches altogether. Even in brief it is a long and illustrious career with many lessons.

But let the referees speak. They are all men who refereed top rugby in South Africa with Kaplan.

1. André Watson, South Africa's refereeing manager, the referee in two World Cup Finals and six Currie Cup Finals, a man who knows what refereeing is about.

"He has set records. That speaks for itself, and so I won't comment on those.

"For me, Jonathan brought to the game a refereeing style and application that was unique and he was certainly the man to call for big occasion games.

"I am sorry to see him retiring but that happens to all, even the greats, which he certainly is."

2. Tappe Henning, a Test referee of note, one of the most knowledgeable on laws and refereeing in the world, an IRB referees' selector who made a great contribution to South African refereeing until he went off to run Scotland's referees.

"Jonathan created his own success in refereeing through perseverance and determination. In his South Africa career he was constantly challenged by those in control of refereeing for his individualism in the 'team' environment and for his individual way of thinking. His ability to think outside the box made him special in his referee style and very successful to become an International referee. It was only later in his career in South Africa that he was truly respected for his individualism. In a pretty much Afrikaans environment Jonathan not only survived but enjoyed huge success of which his achievements are testimony.

"The person Jonathan Kaplan was not understood by many in South Africa and a lot of people felt threatened by his style. My respect for JK is not related to his wonderful achievements but for how he as an individual held himself in a tough and difficult environment and despite the unfair challenges he had to endure he achieved way beyond expectations. His individual style and presence will not grace the rugby fields of South Africa and the world anymore but the footprints JK left in refereeing and in rugby will long remain. A true ambassador for the game and South Africa.

"I sincerely hope that his knowledge and experience will be utilised in some form to the benefit of all those with high aspirations in the refereeing world."

3. Craig Joubert, who has been at the top of the refereeing world recently, the referee of the 2011 World Cup Final, the 2013 Super Rugby Final and the Currie Cup Final in 2010 when he became the youngest referee to do so.

"JK, Jakes, my tjom,

"It’s hard to know what to say. Throughout my refereeing career you have been there as my mentor and friend. The benefit I got as a referee and person running touch for you in a world record number of games. You really helped shape me both consciously and subconsciously. I have been so proud watching you as you have progressed your distinguished and record breaking career. You have always been so generous in sharing your knowledge and experiences and there is no question I am a better referee for having spent the hours and days and weeks around the rugby world touring with my tjom! From Potchefstroom to Twickenham, Kimberley to Sydney, every minute along the way has been a privilege. I will miss our trips together but will still turn to my tjom for that brutally honest advice that has always helped to make me better.


4. Jaco Peyper, the young referee from the Free State, who refereed his first Test in 2011 and has made such great strides since then.


"You were operating at the top level of the game when I was still a schoolboy playing rugby… I had my 15 year school reunion last month… now I am still not that good at Maths, but that surely means that when you retired the same month as my reunion you must have spent at least 15 years at the elite end of the game – Remarkable!!

"As I developed through the ranks (following you with eagle eyes), I didn't actually have a clue what it takes to remain standing at the highest level over time. Now being exposed to it for just a fraction of your career, I have the greatest admiration for your mental strength and resilience.

"Thanks for sharing your experiences/insight on the game with us and the ‘world class’ times off the field! Hopefully plenty more to come.

"Look forward to passing you a couple of tough ones in the TMO box soon…


5. Stuart Berry, who like Kaplan and Joubert started refereeing when at school and had his first Test in 2013 - Japan vs New Zealand.

“I first met Jonathan when I started out refereeing in KwaZulu Natal when JK was still based in Durban, and I clearly remember being appointed to referee in Vryheid with Jonathan – I did the 2nd team game and he did the 1st team game. As a 18 year old at the time, I drove with JK to Vryheid (an eight-hour round trip) and will never forget his words after the game – he was blunt and honest and summarised clearly what he felt I needed to do to progress. I would never have thought at that time that 12 years later I would be refereeing Super Rugby alongside the same man.

"JK is a unique individual, and I've really enjoyed spending time with him as I have grown in my career over the past 12 years. He has a special understanding of the game of rugby, and has helped me personally to get to where I currently am. He’s a good rugby man and someone who you can always rely on to be honest with you. There’s not much more you can ask from a colleague in this game…..enjoy putting your feet up JK!”

6. Marius, Jonker, whose 25-Test career started in 2005 and who refereed the Calcutta Cup match three times.

"A great moment for a great referee and friend!

"I have been privileged to be part of some rather interesting events on his way to Number 70. 'Omkeer nou.' Be happy, tjoppie, and well done!

7. Lesego Legoete, nicknamed Pro, who refereed the first of his five Tests in 2008.


"Wish those that don't know you had the privilege that we had to know you on both a personal and professional level.

"It was and still is a great honour to have worked with you all these years and I hope you will continue to add value to SA Rugby and referees everywhere you go.

"I personally would like to thank you for guiding my focus especially when it came to rugby decisions.

"Thanks, Brother


8. Deon van Blommestein, who was formerly a panel referee and the son of a panel referee and who is now a TMO on the international circuit.

" The credibility of a referee is determined by the quality of his decisions on and off the field. Jonathan Kaplan is synonymous with credibility. To be able to perform with credibility for the period that he has, is an astonishing achievement. It also speaks volumes for the person he is. He was an unique referee who voiced his opinion, but contributed to the development of the game over the last twenty odd years. The quality of the game is determined by the quality of referee. Jonathan contributed to many quality games, testimony to his attitude towards the game, general public and players. There is no better way to be remembered. His records will be broken, but his credibility will last for ever."

9. Lourens van der Merwe, who became a Test referee in 2012 and has had a wonderful experience of whizzing around the world with his whistle.

"When I was starting as a young South African referee in 2001 it wasn't only a privilege to meet a referee of JK's stature, but a learningful journey during the years to come. JK's taught me on and off the field valuable lessons that had a big impact on my career.

"What impressed me most about JK, especially the last two/three years, was JK's ability to read a game and putting game related situations into perspective. His willingness to share his knowledge about the game taught me a lot!

"I wish him all the best and may his presence always be part of the game!"

10. Mark Lawrence, who refereed 30 Tests in his career, the second most by a South African, a Super Rugby Final and two Currie Cup Finals and is now much involved in the education and coaching of referees.

"It feels like yesterday that I first met JK but it has been more like a generation that I have come to know him and so there are many good times, memories, and stories that can be told.

"What I learnt from him was that the measure of greatness was to perform better than any other person in your field and to keep on doing it. JK epitomised this by his achievements and it was a privilege to be part of his great career.

"Mark Lawrence "

11. Rasta Rasivhenge, one of South Africa's most promising young referees., recently elevated to the elite panel. He has made an excellent name for himself on the IRB's Sevens Series.

"Before I started refereeing I had always wondered what it took to be the man in the middle with so much pressure, expectation and delivery of a good game.

"After I was motivated to become a ref with the incident with my mate who was chirping a ref, I pictured myself in JK's and Craig's shoes at the time. I looked at both idols and realized that they both brought great attributes that contributed to a great game of rugby. As I was graduating through the local society ranks and the academy squad, I always wanted to meet JK's and it took some time to meet him as I only met him once I made it on to the "provincial panel". I was amazed my his presence and aura as he was concise, carried a lot of prestige and was at the stage where he was breaking the record for the most test caps as a referee.

"The first encounter was inspiring as he encouraged me to be myself and show these attributes on and off the field, I remember him telling me that the work is both on and off the field in this game and I have to be good at both of those aspects in order to achieve my goals and strive to be at the top.

"At the camp we conversed a lot as we spoke about what he did as a hobby and we spoke about my family which was a runners background, we engaged and he told me about his marathons and races he ran. It was inspiring to hear that he was also involved in another field as I also enjoy running too. At the came we also had opportunities to learn from one another as the camp had a group task where we communicated with the senior referees about topics and ideas which helped us in our thought process and application of certain concepts. I then became friends with him on Facebook and we sent each other texts.

"I always wanted to run touch for him in one of the competitions we have and I was lucky and happy to be appointed as his assistant referee for a super rugby game where the cheetahs played the sharks at Bloemfontein, it was one of my greatest and proudest moments and I really enjoyed every part of it. After the game we attended the function as we were hosted by the Free State Rugby Union, we departed and headed for the hotel where we mingled with the coaches and then went our own way as referees to enjoy a pint after a good day at the office. We had laughter and enjoyed ourselves as I learned a lot in one weekend.

"The most humbling part of JK's refereeing career was when I was happy to officiate at this year's Currie Cup final venue when I refereed the Under-21 final, I was so happy to be there at the end when he ran out with tears, I stood and watched him weep during the anthems, that was the most moving moment I have witnessed in ones refereeing career. That brought goose bumps all over me and at that moment I realized that that what I want to feel when I finish my refereeing career.

"After the game I went and shook his hand, didn't say a word and I knew that it was the end of the road for him as I saw the tears in his eyes.

"He had a great and inspiring career for us all to follow and we now have dreams, records to break as the measure for our individual successes will be based sacrifice, disappointment, motivation, confidence, commitment and dedication.

"Well done on being a great ambassador, role model and leader for the country and young aspiring referees.



12. Marius van der Westhuizen, who has made huge strides in a short time and has now been chosen for Super Rugby in 2014. In his first year of Currie Cup rugby he refereed a semifinal. He has added much value to the IRB's Sevens.

"When I started refereeing I asked refereeing I once asked Tappe Henning, what makes Jonathan such a good Referee. He said: 'It's his ability to stay calm in a high pressure situation and he gets what matters.' The latter did not make sense until a couple years later. I think he mastered the ability to know when not to blow his whistle, rather than being the most important person on the field. Jonathan has been a role model for me over the last couple of years and I will be forever thankful to him for the contribution he has made in my short career thus far.

"When I think of Jonathan two things spring to mind. Firstly, the person you see on the field is far from the person you will see over a coffee during the week. He gets the Job done and the switches back in to his normal relaxed life, a true professional. The second is his honest approach and feedback. He will never tell you what you want to hear but rather just his honest opinion, whether you like it or not. I really do respect him for that.

"It has been a privilege to work with him, learn from him and to watch him over the last couple of years. I think he deserves the rest and I would like to wish him all the very best for the future.

"Jonno, you will be missed." advert