Johannesburg - Test referee Jonathan Kaplan has warned that referees will come down hard on players who illegally contest the ball in the ruck this year.
Kaplan, who is the world’s most experienced referee, will take charge of two Six Nations games in February and will also have the whistle when the Vodacom Super 14 kicks off in South Africa in a repeat of the Absa Currie Cup final between the Vodacom Cheetahs and Vodacom Bulls.
The veteran ref told Supersport.com that he was looking forward to a big season but admitted that he would have “start the season hot” to ensure that fans and players alike have a good standard of refereeing for the vital opening game.
Kaplan believes referees will come down hard on players who play illegally at the breakdown but does admit he has concerns with some of the negative aspects of play that are employed by teams during matches.
“It concerns me to see the constant setting and resetting of scrums and the winding down of the clock through this,” Kaplan said, “ As match officials we don’t want to guess. We will need to take a stronger line on the amount of resets in a game.
“Then at the rucks, we will be focusing on the tackler to ensure he fulfils all of his obligations. If he doesn’t we are going to come down on him early. We will take a harder line on players who are illegally contesting the ball. The tackler knows he needs to let go and if he is not, he will be penalized,” Kaplan told Supersport.com
“If we sort out those two areas, there will be quicker ball and the game will flow better.”
While Kaplan doesn’t agree with former England skipper Lawrence Dallaglio’s assessment that the breakdown is the source of the problems in the game at the moment, he does point out that referees often get the blame for enforcing the laws, where it rather the laws that should be questioned.
“There are a set of laws that are applicable to rugby,” Kaplan explained, “In ten years time they might change to make it a quicker match, but for now the emphasis is on allowing a fair contest. That has always been in the charter and it is important for referees to allow a fair contest and to allow a game which forces the tackler to comply with his obligations at the breakdown.”
While there was some unhappiness from Cheetah fans over his handling of last year’s Currie Cup final, Kaplan points out that there were no complaints from either team, and he is looking forward to refereeing the humdinger.
“If you look at the final, it was one of the better Currie Cup finals in terms of the pace of the game and it was frenetic. I let it unfold in a dynamic manner and that suits a team that wants to play with the ball in hand.
“There were lots of decisions for both sides that were desperately close and they were all correct except for one forward pass.
“Looking ahead, every game is different in the nature. The rivalry between the Cheetahs and Bulls in the last 10 years has been quite special and the Bulls have had a slight edge. But that is a tribute to how well the Cheetahs have used their resources because it’s a commonly known fact that this is a golden generation for the Bulls. It’s a testament to how good this Cheetah side is.”
If the final is any indication, the Bulls will arrive in Bloemfontein to a packed Free State Stadium, and Kaplan will be delivered another pressure cooker of a match.