Two sensational tries by Alexander Obolensky for England against the All Blacks at Twickenham in January 1936 have ensured lasting fame for the Russian prince. The second is regarded as one of the finest tries ever scored at Twickenham. Known as ‘Obolensky’s match’, it was England’s first-ever win over the All Blacks. It was a romantic story that ended in tragedy.
Born in St Petersburg, the son of an officer in the Czar’s Imperial Horse Guards, Alexander Obolensky came to England in 1917 as a baby when his family fled Russia after the Revolution. A life of some style nevertheless continued here: Oxford University and success on the sporting field in athletics and rugby. His pace resulted in a surprise call-up aged 19 for England against the All Blacks – surprising partly because he was not yet a naturalised British citizen! And then came those two tries, before a packed 70,000 crowd at Twickenham.
His sporting career was cut short by the Second World War. Obolensky joined the RAF. In March 1940 his Hurricane fighter crashed near Ipswich during a training exercise. Obolensky was killed. He was buried in the town cemetery at Ipswich.
Nearly 70 years after his death, a striking statue has been erected in the centre of Ipswich following a campaign led by a local businessman and supported by the Russian Roman Abramovich, the Rugby Football Union and many other donors, including former teammates and widows of Second World War airmen. The statue, crafted by leading war memorial sculptor Harry Gray, was unveiled in 2008. The large white-stone plinth is cut in the shape of the tailplane of the Hawker Hurricane in which he died. Above, in bronze, are the muscular head and shoulders of the Flying Prince with a rugby ball under his arm. Ready to run in full flight.