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If you bet that the statue of William Webb Ellis at Rugby School is the only one in England devoted to a noted rugby person, you would lose the wager; a statue in the town of Ipswich honors one of the most fascinating and romantic of all international rugby greats, Prince Alexander Obolensky.
The Prince was born in Petrograd, Russia, son of a prince who served in Tsar Nicolas's imperial Horse Guards. The family fled the Bolsheviks in 1917, escaping to England where young Alexander attended the Trent School in the Midlands before enrolling at Brasenose College in Oxford. The bon vivant would eat oysters and drink champagne before each match. Fleet of foot, he earned two rugby blues on the wing against Cambridge. He received British citizenship in 1936.
The derring-do that would enshrine the 19-year old rugger indelibly in English rugby history, occurred on January 4, 1936, when England hosted the All Blacks at Twickenham. In two prior, early century visits, New Zealand had beaten the Red Rose XV. Hopes for a first victory were raised when, in late December 1935, Wales eked out a narrow 13-12 win against the Down Under visitors.
Sixty-thousand spectators filled the stadium, including the Price of Wales. The English Prince would witness the speedy Russian prince score two tries, one, a junk step 75-yard dash for a try. This victory is celebrated as England’s first against the All Blacks.
Obolensky – known as “The Flying Prince,” “The Flying Slav,” or just “Obo” – played at Leicester and Roslyn Park. He would earn three caps on the wing for his adopted country When World War II broke out, Obolensky enlisted in the Royal Air Force, when, sadly in 1940, he was killed on a training mission.
One sports writer wrote, “He glides with the easy sinuosity of an antelope at full speed.”
(View his rugby career, including the 1936 spectacular test try, and see the statue, by going to You Tube and writing “RUSSIAN RUGBY:ALEXANDER OBOLENSKY.” The narration is in Russian, but the graphics are easy to understand.)