Jonathan Kaplan’s appointment as the Currie Cup final referee was an emotional one and does a disservice to the concept that Saturday should be a representation of the season’s best referee.
Kaplan was the best referee in the world in 2007. He would have been given the World Cup final had South Africa not been in the final. The year represented his peak as a referee, if not as a touch judge. Kaplan, by his own admission, has never shown the same application when running the touch.
He is a referee and not a touch judge. He was for a very long time in the top three referees in the world and he is the most capped Test referee.
But Kaplan doesn’t inspire the confidence of five years ago and he certainly is no longer considered among the best referees in the world. Nor in South Africa.
He has indicated he will retire from professional refereeing at the end of this year, and I suspect that is why he has been given one final big occasion.
There will be those who applaud the appointment as a fitting farewell to Kaplan. I am not among them.
I believe emotion should have played no part and that the best referee in the country should have been given the duties to referee a final being sold as the domestic high of the South African rugby season.
Craig Joubert is currently considered the best referee in the world but he will be doing a promotion/relegation match between Griquas and the Pumas. There are others also more deserving of the occasion than Kaplan, who has refereed more than 1000 games, several Currie Cup finals and several Super Rugby finals.
Kaplan has refereed the All Blacks 17 times, which is also a world record, but his form this season should not have warranted a Currie Cup final referee appointment.
The Currie Cup is a devalued tournament. It may be sold as the Cup of Heroes and as South Africa’s oldest tournament. It is a feeder tournament to Super Rugby and nine of the 10 league matches are played without any current Springboks. They only become available for the final two weeks of play-offs.
Newlands will be full because of the tremendous crowd support in Cape Town. The match will be worthy of a final because all the current Springbok squad members will be playing. It will be the best versus best in terms of players. But I can’t say the same for the man with the whistle.
If this is about an emotional send off for service to the game then the appointment is spot on. If it is about rewarding the season’s best referee for performance, then it’s a farce.