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Book Review: Call it like it is

It takes a unique kind of person to become a top referee in South Africa, which is something that Jonathan Kaplan's book 'Call it like it is' illustrates perfectly.

Kaplan's career, which finished on a high in the Currie Cup Final last year, saw rugby and referees go from amateur to professional with public expectation on both rising accordingly.

As one of the first professional South African referees and the first-ever to 50 Tests Kaplan's pedigree is beyond question, but his book is a lot more than just a list of his achievements because it gives insight to the highs and lows in the complex world of refereeing, not just at the highest level but at all levels.

Anyone who has watched rugby in South Africa over the last 20 years 'knows' Jonathan Kaplan. Having refereed at three World Cups, in over 1000 first class games and in six Currie Cup Finals he has been an important personality in the South African rugby landscape.

His familiar matter-of-fact style shines through in the tone of the book, which delivers on the promise of its title without being particularly malicious or resentful towards anyone which can be a strong temptation for some.

His account of his early life and refereeing experience gives good context to how he managed to make it one of the world's best, with incredible detail helping to sketch the starting points of his career from his first club game when he was still in school through to his first class debut at Newlands and all of the formative experiences in between.

In terms of his philosophy towards his craft Kaplan believes that refereeing is so much more than just applying the laws of the game, and he refers to it as an art with flair, judgment and nerve as tools.

The book reveals just how critical he was of his own performances, and offers interesting thoughts on how he feels the game and the laws can be taken forward.

It also delves into the off-field aspects of refereeing with the politics of appointments, injury demons and the psychological impact of a life on the road without the benefit of the team environment that the players enjoy all explored.

The narrative leads us through significant moments in world rugby over the last two decades through Kaplan's eyes, and reveals more than a few interesting snapshots from behind the scenes.

It is clear that Kaplan simply has a passion for refereeing, which is why he continues to oversee schools rugby which he describes as the 'purest' form of the game, and it would be a shame if someone given his wealth of experience and considerable insight were lost to the game after retirement.

South Africa is full of armchair referees who spend their weekend's shouting at the television or from the stands, but there are not many who have what it takes to blow the whistle themselves.

This book outlines exactly what it takes whilst also giving the reader great insight into Kaplan as a person and what makes him tick. It forces you to start considering rugby from a slightly different perspective and leaves you appreciative of what was an impressive career in an incredibly pressurised environment.

Title: Call it like it is – The Jonathan Kaplan story

As told to Mike Behr

Published by Random House Struik

274 pages

Soft cover


Illustrated with a 16-page photo section in colour

ISBN 978-1-77022-585-5

Review done by Michael de Vries


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