The prince has his eyes on the prize as usual
The Rugby Paper|August 29, 2021
Brendan Gallagher delves into some of rugby’s most enduring images, their story and why they are still so impactful
Brendan Gallagher

What’s happening here?

It’s late November 1937 and a dank afternoon at Iffley Road for Oxford’s annual game against Major Stanley’s XV. The Pavilion/changing room in the background, where the players used to warm their hamstrings in front of the splendid coal fire, remains to this day. Fly-half Ian Watts, one of five rugby-playing brothers from the Hoylake club, is attacking audaciously from deep in his own half and outside him is Alexander Obolensky, the Russian Prince who had become the pin-up boy of English rugby.

What’s the story behind the picture?

Obolensky blazed a brief but glorious trail yet this picture was taken when his international career had already been over for a year or more...although nobody knew that.

He had first come to recognition two years earlier when, as a second-year student he made the Dark Blues XV and scored a spectacular 70-yard try in Oxford’s 10-9 defeat against the All Blacks. A few weeks later he was making the headlines again in the Varsity match when he accelerated over the Twickenham turf to drag down JR Rawlence when the Cambridge wing had seemed certain to score. As a result the game ended as a 0-0 draw.

The England selectors took note and in January 1936 he made his England debut against the All Blacks at Twickenham and scored two of the best tries ever seen at the home of English rugby as England beat the tourists convincingly.

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