Today, there is an ongoing debate over national eligibility, with foreign players seemingly choosing their nationality by the country that adopts them. However, the story is not a new one; this story is about a Russian Prince that gave everything for England.
Prince Alexander Sergeevich Obolensky was born on February 17th, 1916 in Petrograd (which is now St. Petersburg), into the Rurikid dynasty, an ancient Russian house. As revolution swept Russia in 1917, Obolensky’s family fled their native land seeking asylum in England.
Obolensky’s early life was spent at boarding school in Derby, and it was here that his love of rugby grew. Accounts suggest that he lived life to the full, choosing to breakfast on oysters and champagne, enjoying wine, writing theatrical reviews and high table dining, and while his brilliance on the rugby field continued to grow, his academic pursuit suffered, though he would eventually achieve a fourth class degree at Oxford University.
He would go on to win two Blues at Oxford, in 1935 and 1937. Despite missing out due to injury in 1936, this would become the year that young Obolensky would cement his place in English rugby legend.
On his England debut and as the players were being introduced before the game, Obolensky was presented to the Prince of Wales, later and briefly Edward VIII, who asked him, ‘By what right do you play for England?’ Perhaps considering himself the only person amongst the 70,000 people at Twickenham that day as the Prince of Wales’ equal, he replied, ‘I attend Oxford University, Sir.’
In 1936 Prince Obolensky toured with a British Isles side on their tour of Argentina. The tourists played ten matches, nine of which were against club and combined teams while one match took on a full Argentina International team. The party won all their games amassing 461 points and conceding only 12 points.
In a warm-up match on their way to Argentina, the team played Brazil and Obolensky scored an amazing 17 tries in the 82-0 victory in Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro.
The dashing Obolensky along with his young Rosslyn Park clubmate Jimmy Unwin were the tour party’s social magnets. These two threequarters were box-office attractions to followers of rugby in England. Now, the good looks, charm and impeccable manners of the two English superstars meant that the tour party never lacked female attention and, by all accounts, the social whirl of the passage out and the receptions in the Argentine were as much highlights of the visit as the rugby and overwhelming hospitality experienced in Argentina.
While provisions had been made for the usual round of drills, practices and fitness sessions on board during the outward journey, there were soon disrupted by the simple expedient – devised, apparently, by none other than Obolensky – of systematically kicking the the finite supply of rugby balls in to the Atlantic Ocean.
Nothing, though, detracted from Obolensky or Unwin’s performances on the dry, hard Argentine playing surfaces.
The team wore the less familiar three heraldic Lions crest on their jerseys and blazers. Our jersey celebrates the history of the 1936 tourists.
To view the collection inspired by Prince Obolensky click the link – https://ellisrugby.wpengine.com/product-category/flying-prince-rugby-clothing/
(E. Kerr 2016. Alexander Obolensky: England’s Flying Prince reproduced by kind permission of The Rugby Magazine) – https://therugbymagazine.com/