Jonathan Kaplan, who has all sorts of refereeing records, will referee his 100th Super Rugby match in Bloemfontein on Saturday. He is the first referee to reach 100 Super Rugby matches.
Here, in his last year as a professional referee, he talks about his Super Rugby career, in general terms and then on specific matches.
Kaplan: "I am really proud to be finally arriving at this milestone. It has taken much resolve to stay at the top of my game for the better part of a decade and a half. Whilst it is true it is just a number, it is a good number. As with all my games in the Super Rugby competition this year I will be cherishing each and every moment and quite obviously would like to make this a special year to remember and celebrate with all my colleagues and supporters at all the venues I will be visiting during the course of the year."
His 100th match is the Cheetahs vs the Sharks at Free State Stadium. His first Super Rugby match was the Cheetahs vs the Lions at Free State Stadium. That was in 1997. The Lions won 24-20 a match which Kaplan describes as "a typically hard fought South African derby which was in the balance until the final whistle".
Among the 100 matches are special matches - the semifinals and Finals, those watershed matches. In his 15 years as a Super Rugby referee he refereed six semifinals and three Finals. Only André Watson has refereed more Finals - five.
Kaplan has clear memories of each of those Finals.
"The first Final, in 2005, was between the Crusaders and the Waratahs won 35-25 by the New Zealand team in Christchurch. They asserted their ascendency in the third quarter to run away to a 35-6 lead. The Waratahs fought back well and kept their pride intact by scoring three late tries.
"The second Final, the next year, was in the fog between the Crusaders again and the Hurricanes in Christchurch. Interestingly enough, both teams wanted to play the game when given the option of delay as they thought on-field conditions were not as marginal as they appeared on TV. Most viewers couldn't see a thing and those at the ground were pretty marginalised as well. The game was decided by one score, a try by Casey Laulala which settled the outcome. Crusaders won 19-12.
"My third final, in 2009, was between the Bulls and the Chiefs, the Bulls crushing their opponents by 61-17 scoring eight tries to two. It was one of the most complete performances in a Final one could imagine against a team that thoroughly deserved their place in the showpiece game."
Of course, it was not all the knock-out matches. There are others with special memories.
"For the public the highlights will always be the finals and semis. I have some others which were special for me.
"In my eighth game, the Reds scored a well deserved but rare win in Christchurch over the eventual champions, winning 36-23.
"In game 11, Tappe [Henning] got injured towards half-time with the score 16-0 to the Blues against the Brumbies. I took over at half-time and bizarrely the Brumbies scored 22 unanswered points.
"Game 19 was between the Waratahs and the Reds, a traditional Aussie derby - great experience!
"Games 22 and 24 were great games for different reasons, probably in my top three games of the competition ever. In game 22 the Brumbies scored four tries to two against the Crusaders in Christchurch but lost to a last-gasp Aaron Mauger drop kick. In game 24 there was greatest half of rugby ever witnessed. Crusaders scored nine tries, all converted, with some sublime skills, and ended up trouncing the second-placed team by a record score. Incidentally Andrew Mehrtens missed the last conversion which hit the right upright; otherwise he would have been 100% from the tee, too.
"Game 54 between the Brumbies and the Chiefs not so much for the game (whose scoring included 10 tries all converted and no penalties), which was very good, but for the aftermatch fines meeting (and the honouring of Simms Davison) by the Chiefs which was world class.
"In game 70 the Hurricanes drew with Crusaders at the death - a tough New Zealand derby.
In game 73 the Force upset the Crusaders in Perth.
"Game 86 was a winner-takes-all South African derby. The Sharks outstayed the Bulls at Loftus to make the semis in a great game.
"Game 96, the Bulls against the Stormers at Loftus last year, was a brutal battle of collisions."
These 100 matches have sent Kaplan hurtling around the world. Add up the travelling for Test matches, Currie Cup matches and meetings of various kinds, and he certainly racks up the kilometres away from his Green Point home. It's not always fun.
Kaplan: "The most flights I had in a calendar year was 133. I have been to New Zealand and Australia in excess of 112 times since 1999. It has been a really tough part of what I do, and the novelty wore off after a few years. It was good to make friends and meet people of all cultures and it was my single biggest growth curve of my refereeing career. But I must say it was tough to be away from my family and friends on such a consistent basis and its not as if we had a team on the road with us to socialise with."
There is, too, the matter of jet lag. Different people have different ways of dealing with crossing time zones.
"I am no good early on. I battle to get going in the first few days and often stay up the whole night as I refuse to take sleeping pills. Training is a challenge! My body does take some time to adjust and usually in Week 2 I am good to go again."
And so on to Bloemfontein - no danger of jet lag but a great occasion for a great referee.
By Paul Dobson
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