When Jonathan Kaplan was 10 years old one of his pleasures was playing chess and cards with his father.
And, 37 years later, that’s precisely what he’s teaching young rugby players: the deep strategy behind winning rugby. The only difference is that now he does so as the world’s most-capped Test referee.
Kaplan launched his memoirs last night, titled Call it Like it Is, written with award-winning Cape Town journalist Mike Behr. And instead of just another brawny rugger-bugger yarn, the book offers a glimpse of the intellect that made Kaplan the most sought-after matador in the global rugby arena.
When he was 10 he was given a simple choice: to move to another province with Mom, or stay with Dad.
He didn’t want to leave his school, or his friends. And spending every Saturday at the rugby ground King’s Park had become part of his life.
But most of all he “didn’t want to abandon my Dad”.
Reflecting, 37 years later, he says: “I probably should not have been making this decision at 10.” But a decision he had to make. And did, with loyalty, strength and conviction – qualities the Capetonian’s decisions became known for on rugby grounds across the world.
Today, as a retired international referee, Kaplan has turned his hand to “contributing” to rugby in a different way. He explained: “Reffing is my hobby, but my passion is helping anyone who wants to win.”
In particular, schoolboy rugby players. “They already have coaches. My job is to empower their thinking,” Kaplan said. “You can’t really teach nerve. People are born with that – it’s an innate quality. But I try to teach players precisely why they need to perform in a certain way, and how it impacts upon their entire game and team’s performance.”
He has already been hired to serve as the UCT assistant coach for player development, strategic thinking and referee matters – contributing to their defeat-defying comeback and victory in the Varsity Cup this year.
Kaplan’s insight comes from being the man in the middle in more than 150 Currie Cup matches, 107 Super Rugby matches, three Super Rugby finals, 70 tests and four Rugby World Cup tournaments, amid years of many of the world’s finest players between 1994-2013.
And his favourites? Page 246 has the full list of his World XV, of all the players he has reffed, and cites a staggering array of legendary talent.
And the current Bok captain will be delighted to know he features at lock, where he will run out again tomorrow. Alas, Kaplan’s other best lock, Martin Johnson, will not be alongside him. - Cape Argus