DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - MAY 28, during the Super Rugby match between Sharks and Waratahs at Mr Price Kings Park on May 28, 2011 in Durban, South Africa Photo by Steve Haag / Gallo Images

Johannesburg – Record-breaking South African Test referee Jonathan Kaplan will retire from professional refereeing at the end of the 2013 South African season, the SA Rugby Union (Saru) announced on Tuesday.

The 46-year-old Kaplan, who has refereed more Tests, Super Rugby, and Currie Cup matches than anyone in history, steps down after 21 years on Saru's elite panels.

“Rugby has been my life for the past few decades and I've made the decision with a tinge of sadness,” Kaplan said.

“But the time has come to move on and make way for the young referees we have coming through in South Africa.

“I've had an incredible career, and I'd like to thank both Saru and the IRB for the opportunities they have given me.

“I've always prided myself on having the best interests of the game at heart, and being brave enough to try and get the best out of every game in which I have been involved. I'll miss my front row seats on the big stage.”

Saru chief executive Jurie Roux said Kaplan had been one of the world's best referees for a long time, which was a credit not only to South African rugby, but the profession of refereeing as well.

“His calm control of matches set the standard and you knew that if Jonathan Kaplan was in charge, the players would be allowed to express themselves,” Roux said.

“We'll be sorry to see him go but we respect his decision.”

Kaplan will complete his century of Super Rugby matches when he takes charge of the Cheetahs' match against the Sharks in the opening South African round of the competition.

“I'd like to thank my special family and friends for walking this journey with me, and the public for their generous and unwavering support,” Kaplan said.

“It has been an incredible ride and I have made some great friends across all cultures, and experienced some unique moments through rugby.

“I'd like to remain involved in the game if at all possible, quite in what capacity, I am not sure at this stage.”

Among Kaplan's list of achievements and records are a world record 68 test matches, a record 99 Super Rugby matches, and a record 150 Currie Cup matches.

He attended four Rugby World Cup tournaments, five Currie Cup finals, and three Super Rugby finals. – Sapa