- Jonathan Kaplan believes the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa will see a tough series that is too close to call.
- Kaplan has refereed in four Lions series' to date.
- That includes the tour by the Lions to South Africa in 1997 and 2009 in which he refereed warm-up matches as well as two Tests in which the Lions faced Australia and New Zealand.
Former South African Test referee Jonathan Kaplan believes that 2021's British and Irish Lions' tour of South Africa should be a humdinger of a series that's too close to call.
Speaking exclusively to Sport24, Kaplan, who has refereed in four separate Lions' series, believes the visitors will be more than a match for the world champion Springboks.
"I think they will come well prepared," said Kaplan.
"I refereed four Lions' series, I think I am the only ref to have done that. I refereed them against the Sharks when they came here in 2009, I refereed them against Free State when they came here in 1997 and then I referred them in the second Test against the Wallabies and the third Test with the All Blacks."
Over those four series' Kaplan said he noticed just how much the Lions continue to improve with every tour.
"I noticed a step up every single time in terms of the intensity and what it had meant to be playing for that jersey, the coaching staff, how well they were prepared for the conditions, for the opposition. They had clearly done their homework."
He singled out the last time the Lions toured South Africa in 2009 as some of the most brutal rugby he had ever witnessed and expects that again in 2021.
"Some of the Test matches in 2009 were of the most brutal I have seen, especially the second Test at Loftus in 2009, when the whole series was riding on that Test. It was just a stunning series," said Kaplan.
At this point, Kaplan says the 2021 series is simply too tight to call.
"I'd say it's a 50/50 series. I wouldn't put 1 cent on the winner at the moment, I think there is too many variables. So I don't think it's clear cut at all."
Kaplan was the first referee to reach a half-century of Tests, having made his debut in Harare in May 1996.
He officiated at four Rugby World Cups - 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 - including the semi-final between England and France in 2007.
In all, he refereed 425 first-class matches and brought to the game a style and application that was unique.