Jonah Lomu was destructive, but Christian Cullen had it all, says former Test ref Jonathan Kaplan

  • Former South African Test referee Jonathan Kaplan has singled out All Black Christian Cullen as one of the greatest attacking threats world rugby has ever seen.
  • Kaplan believes that Cullen had it all when it came to offensive abilities.
  • All Blacks Richie McCaw, Daniel Carter and England's Jonny Wilkinson were other international players that Kaplan singled out from his time as a match official.

In an exclusive interview with Sport24, former South African Test referee Jonathan Kaplan singled out All Blacks legend Christian Cullen as one of world rugby's greatest ever attacking talents.

Kaplan listed a range of international players who he admired during his illustrious career as an international referee with Cullen, in particular, receiving lavish praise.

“Internationally, Christian Cullen was for me for a period of five years the greatest attacking talent the world has ever seen," said Kaplan.

Kaplan believes that in terms of attack, Cullen was the full package and had several attacking options when carrying the ball. 

"Jonah Lomu was special and scored a lot of tries with his destructive ability but I just think that Christian Cullen could sidestep, he could gas you, he was very strong for his size. I like a fullback that can run the ball back at the opposition.”

Kaplan, who officiated in 70 Tests during his career, singled out other international players that stood out for him over the years, listing George Smith and Richie McCaw as the top two flankers he saw play as well as Kieran Read, Lawrence Dallaglio and Springbok Duane Vermeulen as excellent No 8s.

Other backline players that Kaplan said he admired included New Zealand's Dan Carter and England's Jonny Wilkinson as his preferred flyhalves.

“I refereed Dan Carter and Jonny Wilkinson, they are pretty close in terms of selection, but because I am attack-minded I would go with a guy like Dan Carter. Wilkinson had the edge on him in defence though,” said Kaplan.

Kaplan was the first ever referee to reach a half-century of Tests, having made his debut in Harare in May 1996. He officiated at four Rugby World Cups in 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.

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