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Greg Cornelsen was one of Australia’s all-time great back-row forwards. A colossus of a man, Cornelsen had an underlying shyness and deep-rooted modesty that marked him irrevocably as a country boy. Some backrowers may have been faster to the breakdown but few matched his combined speed, power and lineout skills. Renowned New Zealand sports writer Bob Howitt wrote of him: “Even before he etched his name in the record books with four tries in the  third Test Cornelsen had stamped himself as one of the most talented and constructive No. 8s to tour New Zealand. Fast and strong he got through a terrific amount of ball with minimum effort and maximum efficiency.”
Born in Sydney, Cornelsen did not last long in the city and he was just five when the family moved to a property 40 miles east of Armidale at Jeogla. His parents sent him to boarding school at The Armidale School where his athletic prowess soon became apparent, as he captained the U11s through U14s, missed the U15s because he went straight into the 2nd XV and then played three years of 1st XV.
In 1969, and only in Year 11, he was selected for the Australian Schools tour to South Africa. After high school Cornelsen attended the University of New England, studied economics, switched to flanker and played for Royal Page College in the New England competition. By 1973 Cornelsen was a key figure in the Country representative team that beat both Sydney and Queensland.
The following year Cornelsen missed all the preliminary matches against the touring All Black however, he was selected as a reserve in the first Test in which Mark Loane broke his hand. Loane’s injury saw Cornelsen selected to make his Test debut in Brisbane. He then earned a spot on his first tour, the Sixth Wallabies to Britain, at the end of 1975 and played the first three Tests against Scotland, Wales and England.
In 1977 Cornelsen moved to Queensland and became a vital cog in the Maroons’ revival, with Bob Templeton at the helm. The following year Cornelsen immortalised his name in the history books. Facing the prospect of a clean sweep in their away series to New Zealand the Wallabies were galvanised by two events - firstly, a comment from All Black coach Jack Gleeson just prior to the second Test who said the thought of using the third Test as a trial had “been passing through my mind” and secondly the heart attack suffered by Australian coach Daryl Haberecht. In an astonishing match Australia won 30-16 and Cornelsen scored the first tries of his Test career. The feat was a combination of luck, opportunism and genius.
What is not so well documented is the fact that Cornelsen ran, in aggregate, less than five metres with the ball in hand to score those four tries. The first came from a long New Zealand lineout throw that bounced off the goalpost into Cornelsen’s arms and he plunged over for the try. The second came when he was late to a ruck and the ball suddenly popped out in front of him about three yards out from the line. Cornelsen peeled left and drove over the line in the tackle of All Black loosehead John Ashworth for the try. The third benefited from a touch of luck due to the new experimental law which allowed knock-ons from tackles. Right wing Paddy Batch was crunched by his opposite Bryan Williams. The ball was lost forward and as it reached the tryline Cornelsen grounded it for the score. His final try followed a break on the short side by John Hipwell who threw a pass inside to his closest support, Cornelsen, about 10 yards from the line.
Trailing through, New Zealand No.8 Gary Seear batted Hipwell’s pass away with his left hand in the direction of the try line, the ball bounced into the in-goal area and Cornelsen raced ahead to dot down for a fourth try. He was also on hand to enjoy two of the Wallabies’ greatest victories - the 1979 Bledisloe Cup win in Sydney, the first time the trophy had been won by Australia in 30 years; and the 1980 Bledisloe Cup series win at home which was the first time Australia had retained the Cup. What is for certain is that Cornelsen was part of the most outstanding backrow triumvirate in Australian history alongside Mark Loane and Tony Shaw. He was a great rugby man, and the epitome of the archetypal Australian.
Greg Cornelsen played 25 Tests for Australia in a nine-year international career.
In 2016 Cornelsen was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for “service to rugby union, and to charitable organisations” and the following year he was inducted into the Wallaby Hall of Fame.
Cornelsen won his first Test cap on the flank alongside John Lambie and Ray Price in the 2nd Test, 16-16 draw with New Zealand at Ballymore. The same backrow was retained for the 3rd Test, 6-16 loss in Sydney.
He picked up a single cap at No.8 with Price and Tony Shaw in the 2nd Test, 50-25 defeat of Japan in Brisbane.
Cornelsen played three Tests on the Sixth Wallabies tour to Britain. He played flanker against Scotland and England, and at No.8 in the 3-28 loss to Wales.
Cornelsen did not play in the home series against Fiji and was dropped from the squad entirely for the second Test because he could not arrive in Brisbane early enough in order to prepare for the match. He toured to France and Italy at the end of the year and started on the flank in both Tests against France.
The Wallabies did not play a Test match in 1977.
He started all five Tests, the two home matches against Wales as a flanker in combination with Mark Loane and Shaw, and the three Bledisloe Cup Tests in New Zealand as a No.8 alongside Shaw and Gary Pearse. He scored his first tries, four of them in fact, in the 3rd Test, 30-16 victory at Eden Park. Represented Australia at the Hong Kong 7s.
Cornelsen played all five Tests of 1979 on the side of the scrum. He partnered Loane and Shaw in the losses to Ireland, and Loane and Andy Stewart in the one-off Bledisloe Cup Test and the two away Tests in Argentina.
He was capped in each of the three Tests against New Zealand, the first two at No.8 with Shaw and Simon Poidevin, and the third as a flanker with Poidevin and Duncan Hall.
Cornelsen was selected for the Seventh Wallabies tour to Britain where he started in all four internationals in partnership with Loane and Poidevin.