One of Armidale’s top rugby exports has received the highest honour in the game.
Wallaby great Greg Cornelsen was inducted into the Australian Rugby Union’s Hall of Fame at their annual awards evening on Thursday last week alongside David Brockhoff.
“Bill Pulver, the CEO of Australian Rugby, rang me a week or so before the induction and I was just blown away, I couldn't believe it,” Cornelsen said.
“It is a huge honour, the ultimate I guess for my rugby career to be selected and chosen by my peers and others from the rugby community. He [Brockhoff] was my NSW and Australian coach and he was just an outstanding rugby coach and human being.
“It was a special night and his two sons and daughter were invited up on stage to accept on David's behalf and then I joined them, it was just a really special night.”
Cornelsen moved to Jeogla, east of Armidale, when he was five and spent his high school years at The Armidale School.
“TAS gave me an unbelievable rugby opportunity,” he said.
“I was selected from TAS on the Australian Schoolboys in 1969, my second last year, it was an under 17s Australian side and we toured South Africa.
“It was the very last Australian Schoolboys tour and each of us received a lot of kudos from that tour and you are in the spotlight a bit when you leave school.”
While TAS gave him the start in his rugby union career, Cornelsen credited his father, Rudi, as his biggest influence.
“When I look back, TAS played a major role for my rugby but I was blessed in having a wonderful father who didn't push, he was there to encourage all the time and he's the guy that was fanatical on the basics.
“I received all that initially from dad,” he said.
After his schooling, Cornelsen went on to study at the University of New England and play for Earle Page College, where he won four premierships. He then moved to a formidable Armidale City side.
In 1974, Cornelsen made his debut for the Wallabies.
“My first test was against the All Blacks and we very rarely beat them in those days, they were a mighty side,” he said.
“It was at Ballymore so it was a friendly home crowd.
“John Hipwell, he played a fair bit of rugby in Armidale but he was a Newcastle boy, he was our captain and one of the best.
“We ended up playing well and drew 16-all with the All Blacks so that was my first experience and an unbelievable highlight representing your country as a young guy.”
Cornelsen went on to play another 24 tests in Australian colours and went down in the history books as the first player to score four tries in a test against the All Blacks in 1978.
He said if he had to pass on any message to kids growing up in the country it would be “Whatever you are good at, you should dream of succeeding and doing the best you possibly can.”