Want to help ?
National Rugby Unions | Laws | Scoring | Player Numbering | Player Positions | * | *
Rugby School | Club History | Bloxham's Letter | Split of Union and League | Thomas Hughs | * | *
The Ball | Apparel | * | * | * | * | *
Olympics | Six Nations | Tri-nations | Rugby World Cup | Women's RWC | * | *
Rugby History Links | General Rugby Links | Club History Links | * | * | * | *
subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link

Prince Alexander Sergeevich Obolensky (Александр Сергеевич Оболенский)

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy

At Rest

Hidden away under tall trees in Ipswich's 'new' cemetery a rather non-de script RAF grave stone marks the final resting place of Prince Alexander Obolensky (17 February 1916 — 29 March 1940). By August 1939, Obolensky was already serving as an Auxiliary Pilot Officer (APO) with 615 Squadron, Auxiliary Air Force, stationed at Kenley; and, on the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he joined the Royal Air Force's 504 Squadron. On 29 March 1940, a day after being recalled to the England squad to play Wales, Pilot Officer Obolensky was killed during training when his Hawker Hurricane Mark 1 crashed on Martlesham Heath, Suffolk. His aircraft, reference number L1946, dropped into a ravine at the end of the runway during landing, breaking his neck.

Note: I have read an alternate version of what happened i.e. when taxiing on landing his Hawker Hurricane on the turf airfield at Martlesham Heath, east of Ipswich, the aircraft's wheels snagged a rabbit warren and, having loosened his harness, the pilot was catapulted out of cockpit and, in an instant, had broken his neck.

He was only 24 and the first of many Rugby Internationals to die in the second world war.

Obolensky's grave Ipswich Cemetery

Obolensky's fellow Oxford Blue, Vivian Jenkins, had seen the Russian in London a couple of weeks before his death and congratulated 'Obo' on joining up so promptly and opting for the RAF. "How's the training going?" the Wales full-back asked. "It's going absolutely fine, great fun," Obolensky replied nonchalantly. "Except I still haven't got the hang of landing." [2]


Obolensky in Uniform
Credit: World Rugby Museum, Twickenham.

The tribute on the stone reads: 'His un daunting spirit and endearing qualities live forever in the hearts of all who knew him'. Just four short years earlier (4th January 1936) Obolensky had scored twice on his England debut against New Zealand at Twickenham bringing England's first victory against the mighty all blacks (13 - 0). His first try is called 'The greatest England try ever'.

For many years up until his death in 2000, Bernard Gadney, Obolensky's England captain on that famous day at Twickenham, visited his grave on March 29 each year to pay his respects. "He was just a nice young chap," Gadney recalled. "It's what's in your heart that counts." [2]

Early Life

A member of the Rurik Dynasty, he was born in Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg) on 17 February 1916 and was the son of Prince Sergei Obolensky and his wife Princess Luba (née Naryshkina). Their name derived from the Russian town of Obolensk. Their newborn entered a world of privilege, for his father was an aide-de-camp to the Governor General of Moscow, and an officer of Tsar Nicholas II’s Imperial Horse Guards. They fled Russia after the Russian Revolution of 1917, settling in Muswell Hill, London.

Obolensky was initially educated at The Ashe boys' preparatory school, Etwall, Derbyshire. The school only existed between the wars, during both world wars the building was used by the military.

  Postcard with "Obolensky seated second from right" on back.
Credit: Nigel Aspdin
  The Ashe boys' preparatory school, Etwall, Derbyshire.
Credit: Nigel Aspdin

He joined Trent college, Long Eaton, Derbyshire in 1929, aged 13, and went on to star in Trent firsts' unbeaten XV rugby team age 16, which saw them score 539 points and concede only 22. The unbeaten run continued until they met Worksop College December 1933 when they lost 0-3.

Extracts from Worksopian Dec 1933:
"...the Trent backs were fast and clever, A. Obolensky, on the right wing being particularly dangerous, but the School’s forwards were so energetic and the tackling so deadly that they were seldom allowed to get far."
"A. Obolensky ran well for Trent but was splendidly tackled by G.H. Stephens on two occasions..."
"Trent made efforts but R.S. Rennie spear tackled A. Obolensky in great style... "

Trent College head teacher Gill Dixon said: "We have always been proud of our association with Prince Obolensky. Every year we present an award to an outstanding member of Wright House, of which he was a member." [3]

He then joined Brasenose College, Oxford in Michaelmas 1934, where he held a College Exhibition and studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He gained a Fourth Class degree in 1938.

After his England debut, Obolensky only won a further three caps for England later that year (against Wales on 18 January, Ireland on 8 February and Scotland on 21 March), and scored no further tries.

Rugby Career

Rosslyn Park Vs. Old Blues 1937
Credit: World Rugby Museum, Twickenham.

At Oxford he earned two rugby blues representing Oxford University RFC as a wing/three-quarter, the first at age 18 when in the 1935 varsity match he made a celebrated try-saving tackle in an otherwise forgettable scoreless contest. That brought him to the attention of the English selectors, and in 1936, while still a second year undergraduate, he was picked to play wing for ‘his country’ against the celebrated New Zealand All Blacks.

Not surprisingly, that made Obolensky the only Russian ever to play for England, and his selection, granted on an assurance that he would become a naturalized citizen, caused considerable controversy in the run up to the game.

A reporter wrote: ‘Shortly before half-time, the Russian was fed the ball deep on the right, then cut inside and made a raking diagonal run for the left-wing, circumventing the disconcerted All Blacks cover for a peerless score’. It was a copywriter’s dream – one Prince had eclipsed another, and ‘the Russian’ was warmly adopted as an ‘English hero’ and schoolboy idol. The Morning Post described it thus: "Runners we have seen before, but never such a runner with such an innate idea of where to go and how to get there. His double swerve to gain his first try was remarkable enough, but the extraordinary turn-in and diagonal right-to-left run which won him his second and which drew forth that great Twickenham rarity, a double roar of applause, will never be forgotten by anybody who saw it." [2]

There are two reasons why ‘Obolensky’s Try’ became so celebrated. One was its unorthodoxy. The rugby writer T. P. McLean called it ‘a stupendous exhibition of the hypotenuse in rugby’. The second was that it was filmed. [4]

He played for Leicester Football Club between 1934 and 1939 (17 games), as well as Rosslyn Park F.C.. His selection for England caused a stir because he was not a British citizen, but he gained British Citizenship in 1936.

Obolensky played for England only three more times, all in 1935-36, and failed to score again. But 1936 continued to be his annus mirabilis, for he earned a permanent place in the record books when he toured South America with a British Forces representative side. On August 31, in an 82-0 rout of a Brazilian XV in a warm-up game in Niteroi, he created a record by scoring an amazing 17 tries! Although the unlikely feat has been called into question, some witnesses attested that it was indeed achieved. [4]

After he graduated from Oxford in 1937 Obolensky joined Rosslyn Park, based in Richmond, Surrey. During his short career he also played for Chesterfield, Leicester Tigers ( 1934-39 and the Barbarians.


A statue by Harry Gray remembering Obolensky was erected in February 2008. The £50,000 bronze memorial takes pride of place in Cromwell Square, Ipswich. It was paid for by several private backers including Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, the RFU and Ipswich businessman Graeme Kalbraier. Among those participating in the ceremony were representatives of the Embassy, Russian media and the Russian Rugby Union. A commemorative present from the Russian community of Newcastle was offered to the Ipswich council and the RRU delegation.

The statue was unveiled by his niece, Princess Alexandra Obolensky, whose father Michael was the prince's younger brother. She said: "It was almost too painful for my grandparents to discuss him when I was a child. "My grandparents were absolutely devastated by his death and my father adored him." "Who knows what he would have achieved but for the war?"

Obolensky Statue, Cromwell Sq. Ipswich

Other tributes include:

  • Amongst the 100 players featured in the RFU's Twickenham 'Walk of legends'
  • Dining hall at Trent college named after him.
  • Restaurant suite at Twickenham named ‘Obolensky’s.
  • Twickenham wall of fame.
  • Tent college award instituted in 1985, given annually to a pupil who has made an outstanding contribution to the school and Wright House in any field.
  • The Prince Obolensky Association.
  • An annual lecture on rugby, the Obolensky Lecture, is held in his honour



1. Telegraph 14 February 2008

2. Telegraph 10 July 2008

3. Telegraph 27 February 2009

4. Bygone Derbyshire 27 January 2010

5. World Rugby Museum, Twickenham.



Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boyCredits |Contact Us | ©2007