Former top referee Jonathan Kaplan joined The Roar Rugby Podcast hosts Harry Jones and Brett McKay for an intriguing look into his career, the biggest players of his era and the current state of the game.
Kaplan has a long memory and also has a long spreadsheet. He has, for over 700 matches (425 at first class level), recorded the place, the teams, the penalty count, cards, his own assessment score, and colour-coded and micro-columned all this data.
Beyond the data there is an obvious love of the game. He relishes the memories, and now, as head of MLR’s referees and based in Toronto, he is training and assessing and helping a new generation of North American whistleblowers grow into the game.
Kaplan told The Roar likes a ref to have the courage to let players play.
“Bledisloe Cup games were the best type of game to referee,” he said. “I enjoyed a quicker game and then quickening it up.”
Kaplan holds the record for officiating Bledisloes.
“The skill level was high, the conditions and conditioning was great, the players knew each other, coaches knew what each other would do. In my time, Australia was very competitive.”
He counts one of his greatest Test experiences his seventh Bledisloe Test at the Cake Tin in 2001 when John Eales kicked the last minute matchwinner to keep Australia number one.
He was a fan of David Pocock. “He was hard on the ball, and I never discouraged that, and it was a tactic that served him and all the teams he played in well. He was an outstanding leader and a top class bloke,” said Kaplan.
He remembered reffing a match in Christchurch, and “not pushing all the right buttons,” but recalled Pocock coming over and shaking his hand. “He had this thing. Every single game, he would shake the referee’s hand. He could detach himself from emotion.”
Richie McCaw was another who left an impression.
Harry Jones and Brett McKay are joined by NZ writer Jamie Wall to look at the crisis engulfing the All Blacks in the latest Roar Rugby Podcast. Stream it here or in your app of choice
“He pushed the boundaries until he got away with it. With me, I don’t believe he pushed beyond the boundaries.”
Kaplan also spoke about his dealings with fans, and singled out Canberra as a hostile stadium. “They were feral,” he laughed. However, he points to his own strong self-image as why he did not take it personally.
He likes a challenge, which refereeing always provides.
“I think that’s how you grow. You take on a task. You might think you are good in the beginning. I was a bit cocky at the start. But I realised I had to grow. Super Rugby allowed me to grow. I came over to Australasia and learned a new context. Everywhere you go there are nuances.
“There are individuals with more ice in their veins. You can train people as much as you want on zoom, but until you get out there and are getting abused, and keep your head about you, and go from micro task to micro task, in order to get the big picture of the game right, that takes a special type of character. The certification and training does not necessarily get you over the line.”
Kaplan also spoke on the use of TMO, how refs can be more open post-match and his thoughts on head contact protocols – a burning issue in the game.
You can stream the chat with Jonathan Kaplan in the player below, or on your podcast app of choice.