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Jeff de Jong - Scintillating Star Rugby Flanker

SPORTING PERSONALITIES: At this time of the year when the local rugby season is virtually forgotten, it was a joyful and memorable occasion to 'run' into another "unforgettable" Sri Lankan, a 'cheerful' Burgher ruggerite, who is on a brief visit to his 'motherland' - (after 'Burghering-off' to Australia, some years ago!).

While in Sri Lanka, 'Off' the field - he added much value to the Havelocks 'mantlepiece' with his frequent "Cheers!" but "On" on the field, his invaluable contribution to the 'grand game' of Rugby, illuminated many playing fields in the country!


Jeff de Jong

Some rugby fans in the sixties and seventies, were 'star-gazing' - at the splendour of the rugby played by a constellation of 'moving-Stars' - on the earth below.

Among them was this scintillating 'Star' Flanker - the former St. Peter's College Colombo, Havelocks Sports Club and Sri Lanka Rugby Captain - Jeff de Jong!

Jeff distinguished himself as a classy, robust rugby player, when he started playing as 'flying' Flanker for St. Peter's College from 1969 and went on to Captain the team in 1972. His 'crash-tackles' and splendid 'open-side' wing-forward play often had 'star-players' in the opposition, seeing stars!!

He said, he owes his success in Rugby to his first Coach, Archibald Perera, as a longstanding, dedicated perfectionist, who guided him and many other brilliant players on the right paths, with the disciplined implementation of the 'basics' in rugby.

St. Peter's were 'unofficial' School Rugby Champions in 1972, having lost only to Trinity College, Kandy, with former Kandy Sports Club and Sri Lanka Captain, Trinity "Lion" Irwin Howie, by a slender margin but winning the rest of the games.

Jeff de Jong had the honour of captaining the Colombo Schools versus the Outstation Schools and the Combined Schools Rugby XV against the Sri Lanka Universities, leading both teams to victory in 1972.

It was absolutely unique that THREE sets of brothers played in the 1972 Peterite Rugby team, the 1st set - Jeff de Jong (Captain, 'Star' Flanker, now domiciled in Australia) and Travis de Jong (an outstanding Hooker, presently a leading Exporter of Tropical fish).

2nd set - Noel Van Langenberg (hard-working Prop-forward, now in California USA) and Michael Van Langenberg (dashing Flanker and currently in Australia) 3rd set - Rohan Weeratunga and Nalin Weeratunga (both classy Centre-threes, now in USA). This can certainly be counted as another 'record' for the "Guinness Book of World Records".

To make-up the rest of this 'match-winning' team, were - a brilliant Scrum-half Ronald Rodrigo (a former Air Force Rugby Captain and presently a Senior Pastor serving the Lord Jesus Christ in Australia), Fly-half with a safe pair of hands - Roy Dias (former Sri Lanka's brilliant Test Cricketer), a rugged Prop-forward - Earl Serpanchy (presently in Australia), splendid Second-rowers - Nimal Jayasuriya (currently Maj. General Sri Lanka Army) and Anura Gunatilleke (now living in Venice), and agile big-made No. 8 - Jan Van Twest (a top Hotel Manager down South), fastest Wing Threes - David Nicolle (presently Director Galadari Hotel) and Shirley Thambinayagam (now residing in the USA) and a 'safe-as-houses' Full-back - Neil Peiris (living in Australia).

He recalled, with glee in his eye, his remarkable feat in Athletics whilst in College. It happened at the Inter-house Athletic Meet, when he was suddenly summoned by the athletic coach to participate in the 1,500 metre race.

He little realised that he had to compete with his younger brother Travis, who was the favourite 'runner' to win the 1500 metres. At the time Jeff was called, he was 'running around' in his rugby attire and did not 'fancy' the idea.

However, without much hesitation, his response was to take to the Starter's orders 'get on your marks' - Jeff was ready for the 'set and for the race of his life'.

With the sound of the 'bang' from the pistol, he took off like a Gazelle and completed the 1500 metres in an 'unbelievable' New Record time of 4 minutes 22 seconds... a school Record that has not been broken to this day. As a fine 'sporty' younger brother Travis was overjoyed with his elder brother's effort but was flabbergasted at the result.

Jeff also had his own methods of staying fit and built-up the essential strength to play effectively in a bustling, bruising game of Rugby, as a devastating Flanker.

Through serious, regular training and mastering the basic skills of tackling, handling the ball, precise positional play and good team-work, enabled him to earn a place in the Sri Lanka rugby team from 1974 to '79.

He participated in two ASIADs, the first in 1974 in Colombo, under the versatile captaincy of Indrajit Coomarasamy and again in 1978, held in Malaysia. In the Hong Kong Sevens Tournament in 1977, Jeff was appointed the Captain.

He played with other superb Captains such as, the outstanding CR&FC Captain and prop-forward, Haji Omar, plus other outstanding players like, Reggie Bartholomeusz, Anton Benedict, Angelo Wickremaratne, Mohan Balasuriya, Michael Jayasekera, Irwin Howie, Hafi Abdeen, Ronald Rodrigo, Desmond Harridge, Isham Abdeen and many more.

Before migrating to Australia in 1986, Jeff had the glorious opportunity to play for the Havelocks Rugby XV from 1973 to 1979, Captaining the team in 1977 and winning the Clifford Cup. In the same year, Jeff was selected to Captain the Sri Lanka 'Sevens' team to Hong Kong.

It was Jeff's delight to recount his 'special-moments' when he donned the popular salmon pink and chocolate brown 'Havies' jersey, playing in his first year 1973, under the captaincy of a tantalizing inside three-quarter Jeff Ratnam.

When Desmond Harridge captained 'Havies' in 1974, Jeff had some great experiences of 'disciplined coaching' with Gamini Fernando, a former splendid 'swashbuckling' Havelocks and Sri Lanka wing-forward, to see Havelocks in the 'Cup-final' beating the CR&FC, led by 'speedy winger' Reggie Bartholomeusz, to win the Clifford Cup.

In 1975 Jeff played his third year for Havelocks, with Shafie Jainudeen as Captain and Gamini Fernando as Coach, unfortunately 'missing out' on the Clifford Cup. Refreshingly, 1976 saw Havelocks regain the Clifford Cup, magnificently led to victory by Thajone Savanghan, the Havelocks Captain, coached by Dickie Jayetilleke former Sri Lanka and 'Havies' super Scrum-half.

1977 was a memorable, eventful year, when the vibrant wing-Forward Jeff de Jong Captained the Havelocks, to win the Clifford Cup, coached by former Sri Lanka Inside-three and Full-back Ken de Joodt, a Trinity Captain and "Lion".

Jeff played once again in the following year 1978, when Anton Benedict captained the Havelocks team and Jeff played his vital part to enable 'Havies' to be "Triple Champions", for the first time ever, winning the 'Sevens', 'Clifford Cup' and the 'Knock-out' tournaments. 1979 was Jeff's final year of his superb 'Star-studded' Rugby playing career.

In his usual determined 'gutty' manner, he gave off his best to help bring victory to the Havelocks, led by a dazzling No. 8 and flanker, Jeffrey Yu, another Trinity "Lion" and Captain - thereby winning the prestigious "Clifford Cup".

Jeff decided to 'hang up his playing boots' and launched out to 'direct' the laws of the game to others by 'taking to the whistle' and refereeing in the 'A' Division of the Clifford Cup Rugby Tournaments from 1980 to 1986. He had a successful Referee's 'sojourn' and then decided it was time to go by the 'rules of life'.

So with a long blast of the whistle he ruled himself out of his 'bachelor-life' and believed he should respond as the answer to a 'Maiden's Prayer'. With no time lost he 'flanked' out and achieved his best 'Try' in real life and rightly focussed on the greater 'goal of life'.

Jeff married "Katy" Neliya (nee Patternott - sister of the "famous four" Patternott brothers, Patrick, then three grand ruggerites and Cricketers, Aubrey, Rodney, Hemish - and a sister Patricia). They produced two children, Griffith (a son, 22 years of age) and Neliya (Jnr.) a daughter at 'sweet 16'.

Since they married on the 17th of October 1981, it was time for 'celebrations' this year, as it was their "Silver Wedding" (25th anniversary - 1981 to 2006), which they did with family and friends in Melbourne, Australia.

Jeff remembers with deep gratitude and heartfelt sentiments, how his dedicated father Herbert de Jong (who, sad to say - passed away in 1994, at the age of 78 yrs) and his sweet mother Quida (much alive and 'kicking' at 81 years), made it their sincere 'mission' to be present at every Rugby match Jeff and Travis played in, be it Colombo or outstation.

Their infinite faith in a true and living God, helped them to spread their wings of love, concern, care and encouragement over Jeff (now 53 years) and his three brothers, Ralph (58 yrs), Travis (51 yrs) and Graham, (45 yrs).

With much love and gratefulness, Jeff also extends his "Thanks a million" to his pretty wife Neliya and their two children Griffith and Neliya (Jnr.), for enabling him to sustain success in life, especially when it is a situation to maintain a 'home away from home' in Australia.

With such a wide circle of friends in Sri Lanka and his popularity as a 'past' leading ruggerite, Jeff de Jong certainly loves and misses Sri Lanka. It is hard to 'match' the good fund and wonderful hospitality of dear friends and the love of family-members.

Despite the 'current' complicated country 'complex', Jeff prayerfully hopes that Sri Lanka's 'future' will look bright if only the people will seek our God's intervention and ask for God's 'miracles' that will bring divine harmony and peace to this beautiful island of Sri Lanka.

As it is said in the Word of God, to those who believe - "With men it is impossible, but with God All things are possible" (Mark 10:27), even for Sri Lanka... Jeff's parting words was from a Christian saying "More things are wrought by Prayer, than this world dreams of".... which he believed in his playing days as an outstanding Sporting Personality and still does.

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