Royal rugby legend is honoured

TODAY on what would have been his 89th birthday, Ipswich is set to honour an English rugby legend, laid to rest in the town's war cemetery.In his day Russian royal, Prince Alexander Obolensky, was a massive star in the rugby union world, on a par with the likes of Jonny Wilkinson now.

TODAY on what would have been his 89th birthday, Ipswich is set to honour an English rugby legend, laid to rest in the town's war cemetery.

In his day Russian royal, Prince Alexander Obolensky, was a massive star in the rugby union world, on a par with the likes of Jonny Wilkinson now.

Blessed with a brilliant intellect, a gift for sport and an eye for the ladies, Obolensky became a dashing national hero when he scored two tries in England's 13-0 defeat of New Zealand in 1936.

One of his spectacular efforts has gone down in the annals of rugby history because of his diagonal, length of the field, run for a touchdown.

It was also the first time England had beaten the All Blacks.

Obolensky became a British citizen in the same year, after his family had fled the revolution in his homeland almost 20 years before.

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When the Second World War broke out he went from one wing to another and joined the RAF as a pilot.

One of the original Brylcream Boys, he was a member of RAF 504 squadron.

However Obolensky died on take-off in his Hurricane fighter at RAF Martlesham Heath in 1940 and his grave is still in Ipswich's war cemetery.

Bob Dunnett chairman of Martlesham Aviation Society described the last moments of the aristocrat's life.

He said: "Prince Obolensky was a member of 504 squadron, at the time when he was killed he was not operational but was taking part in a training exercise on practice runs.

"The Hurricane, reference number L1946, he was in dropped into a ravine at the end of the runway on Martlesham Heath. The plan shot forward onto its nose. He shot forward and broke his neck."

He was just 24.

His had been a short but spectacular life on and off the rugby field.

Lifelong rugby fan and chief executive of Ipswich Borough Council, James Hehir, said: "Prince Obolensky in his day was as big a hero as Jonny Wilkinson or Martin Johnson.

"I only heard about the Ipswich connection when an old friend, Peter Raspin, asked me why the Prince was buried in the town. I had no idea and began some research.

"Now I have written to Sir Clive Woodward, the RFU and 'Sandy' Sanders, asking them for some ideas about how we can honour Prince Obolensky.

"Sandy, who lives near Ipswich, was president of the RFU and chairman of selectors when Sir Clive first played for England. And Sir Clive delivered this year's first ever Obolensky lecture in London.

"We want to work together - and with the support of the business and rugby community of the town - to honour Prince Obolensky with a statue.

"It would be fitting if we could realize this project by the time of the 90th anniversary of his birth in 2006."

ALEXANDER Obolensky was a Russian prince born on February 17, 1916, in St Petersburg.

He was the son of Prince Serge Obolensky, an officer in the Czar's Imperial Horse Guards, and his wife Princess Luba. The family name derived from its home city of Obolensk in Russia.

The year after his birth, the Russian Revolution broke out and the family fled to England, settling in Muswell Hill, North London.

Prince Alexander studied at Oxford University, where he played rugby union and gained two blues in the sport.

He went on to play for Leicester Tigers between 1934 and1939 at wing three-quarter.

His selection for England caused a stir because he was not English, although he had gained British citizenship in 1936.

In the same year he scored two tries in a 13-0 victory over the All Blacks.

He only won four caps for England, but his name has entered into legend because of newsreel footage of his tries.

He died during the Battle of Britain when his Hawker Hurricane crashed on a training mission in Martlesham Heath, on March 29, 1940. He was 24.

PRINCE ALEXANDER OBOLENSKY

n Wing - England four caps (1936 v New Zealand; 1937 v Wales, Ireland, Scotland)

n Played for Trent College (Oxford), Oxford University, Notts-Lincs & Derby, Barbarians, Rosslyn Park and Leicester.

n He is also believed to have played for Royal Air Force.

n He was awarded an Oxford blue for rugby in 1935 and 1937.

n Obolensky was the first English rugby international to die in the Second World War, though not because of enemy action.

n He was the pioneer of lightweight rugby boots.

n Obolensky is reputed to have scored the most tries in a rugby match - 17 for GB v Brazil at Niteroi 31 August 1936, although it was an unofficial match.

n He is celebrated for his two tries against New Zealand, particularly the one where he changed direction from the right wing to score in the left corner.

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