DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 02, Referee Jonathan Kaplan during the Super Rugby match between The Sharks and DHL Stormers at Kings Park on March 02, 2013 in Durban, South Africa Photo by Steve Haag / Gallo Images

Johannesburg - SA Rugby Union (Saru) president Oregan Hoskins on Wednesday paid tribute to veteran test referee Jonathan Kaplan.

Kaplan retires from professional refereeing after the Tri-Nations Series between Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya on November 16.

“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,” Hoskins said in a statement.

“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.”

Last month's Currie Cup final between the Sharks and Western Province 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 would 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.

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 he fulfilled the role as an assistant referee at the 1999 World Cup.

He also took charge of six Currie Cup finals and three Super Rugby finals, and was the first referee to take charge of 100 Super Rugby matches.

Kaplan, who also had the honour of handling British and Irish Lions series matches during his tenure, said he was blessed to have had a long and fruitful career.

“I could not have achieved this on my own, I needed people to support me and Andre Watson (Saru general manager referees) and his team have been great in that respect,” Kaplan said.

“The 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.”

Sapa