Cape Town – Whatever happens at Newlands on Saturday, there’s always next year for both Province and the Sharks. But for ref Jonathan Kaplan, 46, the match will be his last.
After a staggering 423 first class rugby matches, the WP-Sharks clash will be his sixth Currie Cup final – after previous finals, all involving the Blue Bulls, in Bloemfontein, Joburg, Durban and twice in Pretoria.
“So I seem to have saved this final at Newlands for last,” said the Capetonian, whose home is in Green Point.
But his record career has taken him far and wide.
In total, he has reffed 68 Test matches, and been involved in a total of 130 Tests including roles as touch judge and TV ref.
Kaplan has taken charge of 13 matches at four Rugby World Cups – in 1999 in the UK and France, in 2003 in Australia, back in the UK and Europe in 2007 and in New Zealand in 2011.
He has blown in 17 Six Nations matches – a record – 107 Super Rugby games – also a record – and 161 Currie Cup Games, another record.
After matriculating at King David High School in Linksfield, Joburg, Kaplan studied social science, with majors in economics and psychology, and added a postgraduate degree in marketing management.
In 1993, he blew his first first-class match, aged 27. Five years later he became a full-time professional ref.
His proudest moments, looking back?
“I was a touch judge at King’s Park when my youngest brother played for the Sharks in the late ’90s – I was pretty proud.
“But what’s made me proudest is having represented my country in all those Test matches, flying the flag as the premier referee… that carried a lot of weight and responsibility, which I carried easily, but I tried to do the job with excellence.”
Any not-so-proud moments, or regrets?
“I was capable of doing a World Cup final, but for whatever reason one didn’t bounce my way,” he said.
His most prestigious match, instead, was probably the 2007 semi-final, in which England beat France 14-9.
“And obviously there are mistakes I’ve made. I had a poor Bledisloe Cup game in 2006, and there was an important non-decision in the Six Nations in 2011.”
Aside from occasional, yet inevitable, errors he has never been threatened, never been offered a bribe, and was only ever slightly intimidated by Kobus Wiese’s “mountaineering skills” at the ruck way back in the mid-90s.
In the meantime, a rather large game looms. “Unusually, I’ve got a lot of butterflies! I’m usually able to get into the zone quickly. But because it’s the last dance, I just want to be able to enjoy the day with everyone else and deliver a performance in which I get most of what’s important right.”
Kick-off is at 5.30pm. Around 80 minutes later, as he sends 30 worn-out warriors back to the changerooms, the world’s rugby fraternity will bid farewell to one of its giants, as JK blows his final whistle.