One of the most famous names in Wallabies’ history is turning Japanese.
Jack Cornelsen’s recent eligibility for Japan and strong form for the Panasonic Wild Knights has seen the skillful backrower selected in the Brave Blossoms’ 52-man training squad.
The ultimate reward is tantalising for the son of Wallabies great Greg Cornelsen, the backrower who famously scored four tries against the 1978 All Blacks at Eden Park.
Make the cut to 35 and he will be part of the squad for the historic match against the British and Irish Lions at Murrayfield on June 26.
Cornelsen, 26, never really considered the idea of one day representing Japan when he landed for a trial with the Wild Knights and former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans at the end of 2017.
“It’s three years of continuous residency to qualify for Japan so it wasn’t in my mind when I first came over for a two-week trial,” Cornelsen said from Japan.
“For me, it’s been mostly a matter of just going with the flow and thinking only a season at a time.
“The more I've enjoyed playing in Japan, the more I’ve seen long-term as a possibility so there was no one moment.
“I did start to think about the three-year qualification more seriously and certainly checked on my days in and out of the country because the key thing is ‘continuous’ time here.”
Cornelsen became eligible last November and now sees the possibility of playing Test rugby as an exciting ambition to drive his improvement.
The 1.95m No.8 or blindside flanker was an influential figure in two premierships (2014-17) for the University of Queensland but there was never an opening in the well-stocked backrow positions at the Queensland Reds.
In truth, he was also a little light when under 100kg in the early days. He’s now a stronger 110kg figure but the gains in Japan have been in bigger ways.
“I didn’t get the opportunity to play Super Rugby when I was in Queensland so the challenge you get playing (former All Blacks captain) Kieran Read, (former Wallaby) Sean McMahon and other internationals each week has been really beneficial,” Cornelsen said.
“It’s quite cool in my own team to see how our internationals prepare and view a game in match weeks.”
That’s meant rubbing shoulders with now-retired Wallaby backrow beast David Pocock and All Blacks giant Sam Whitelock in seasons gone by and with former England lock George Kruis in the current side.
“It might be George helping with lineout plans or what to look out for with our own defensive lineout ideas,” Cornelsen said.
“There are little things I’ve learnt from Robbie since coming to Japan about running lines and timing my runs better that I’d never thought of before. I definitely feel I’ve improved.
“I’d loved to get a chance to go on this tour to play the Lions. If not, I definitely have the 2023 Rugby World Cup in my sights.”
Father Greg, always a supportive figure in the background on the Gold Coast, has never varied from that stance.
“Dad’s always been supportive. He’s asked me what path I’d like to take and supports my choice,” Cornelsen said.
“We are always on the phone having a chat about things because it has been a long while since I’ve been home.
“In the end, it all comes down to playing well for Panasonic.”
Panasonic are undefeated in the Top League this season.
Wild Knights centre Dylan Riley, 23, and a product of The Southport School on the Gold Coast, is another first-time inclusion in the Japanese training group with former Sunwolves backrower Ben Gunter, a former Brisbane Boys' College schoolboy.
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