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 fulfilling 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 has the additional distinction of being the first referee to take charge of 100 Super Rugby matches.
Kaplan also had the honour of handling British and Irish Lions Series matches during his tenure.
After 21 years on the National Panel in South Africa, Kaplan decided to retire from international and provincial refereeing while continuing to referee at clubs in the Western Province and schools.
In interviews with the SA Rugby referees website, here’s what Kaplan’s former colleagues had to say about him:
1. André Watson, South Africa’s refereeing manager, the referee in two World Cup finals and six Currie Cup finals:
“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 v 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 second team game and he did the first 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.
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 (sic) 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!”