Vale Jeff Sayle: Randwick legend remembered
Photos: SPA Images
Australian rugby and Sydney club rugby in particular, has lost one of it’s legendary characters with the sad passing of Jeff Sayle, after a lengthy and courageous health battle. He was 77-years-old.
A one-test Wallaby against the All Blacks in 1967, ‘Sayley’ as he was universally known was a fulcrum of Randwick Rugby Club, with an almost 70-year association starting as a ball boy aged 10. He won four Shute Shield Premierships playing at flanker, donning the myrtle green jersey 379 times – 160 of those in 1st Grade. And when he hung up the boots he went on to lift another six titles as coach of his beloved Galloping Greens, overseeing the graduation of some of Australia’s finest-ever rugby talent in the shape of the Ella brothers, Simon Poidevin and David Campese.
He had continued to be a familiar face at Coogee Oval ever since, serving as the club’s treasurer, secretary and President, and being made a life member for his contributions. And his efforts were recognised externally as well, being awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2006 for services to Rugby Union with Randwick, and to surf lifesaving through the Coogee Surf Life Saving Club.
He also received the Nick Farr Jones Spirit of Rugby award at the John Eales Medal in 2015, where his acceptance speech displayed some of the humour and passion for the game with which he was renowned, and much loved.
Former Randwick and Wallaby head coach Bob Dwyer penned this fitting tribute to his old friend:
Jeffrey Leonard Sayle – ‘Sayley’ to what seems like half the world – passed away early yesterday in hospital, after a long, and typically courageous fight against all the odds.
Just as it looked as if he might defy the odds yet again, he passed peacefully in his sleep. Sad though we are, we can perhaps be grateful for this gentle end.
Over this last year, his sister, Janette, has been his constant and tireless support and to see her loving devotion to her brother has given all of us an added strength to try to help Jeffrey though the many rough patches.
To say that he was a much-loved person at the Randwick Rugby Club and the Coogee Surf Club would be, almost criminally, understating the influence that he had on them. He was a truly larger-than-life character at both these iconic institutions.
Beginning as a ball-boy at Coogee Oval, at around 10 years of age, Jeff spent his remaining 67 years there in one role or another. From junior rugby, senior rugby, a Waratahs, Wallabies, referee, coach, administrator, and finally patron of our great club. Until the back end of this season, he was at every game, every week home and away, and at every practice session, every Tuesday and Thursday evening. And I mean ‘every’!
Coogee Surf Club have written their own tribute to remember Sayley, but it is most important to note that he rowed in an Australian Surfboat championship winning crew. In our game he reached the pinnacle as a Wallaby rugby team member. All of us have long admired that they were both achieved on the back of his indomitable spirit and refusal to be daunted by any thought of failure. For Jeffrey to give less than 100% was a sin. He never, never, gave in and it was the lesson he leaves us all.
Those who are familiar in any way with surfboat racing, and the training regimes of the crews, will know that no sporting group trains harder than them. This was right down Sayley’s alley! He could handle that and handle it, he did.
Exposure to such commitment, I’m sure, helped him in his rugby career. He trained like his life depended on it – indeed, he had a similar attitude to any of his many and varied pursuits. I will remember, forever, seeing his homespun cardio-routines, featuring him running laps of Coogee Oval pushing the heavy cricket wicket roller! This, to my knowledge, is a one-off and our hallow ground had never look better after it!
Equally, was his sense of humour, his love of fun – his genuine love of life. All who knew him loved to be with him, to be around him, and to laugh with him. Indeed, often, at him!
He had a very quick wit, a great memory and an agile mind. Without a massive formal education, he was, nevertheless, blessed with a keen intelligence. He saw things with absolute clarity and could educate us all in a simple, unsophisticated way. He was a man who could walk with kings but never lost the common touch.
We may never see his like again as the mould was surely broken and it’s the saddest of sad days for Randwick Rugby. Rest in Peace Jeffrey – you deserve to.