“Johnnie” foreigner’s very welcome

Alexander ObolenskyIn common with other island nations, Britain has a long tradition of welcoming newcomers to her shores.

In the past, resourceful rugby administrators often used to find a way to bend the nationality rules when a player was good enough.

That’s changed now and all players born overseas have to qualify. There are three ways: through birth, by having parents or grandparents from that country, or through residency, which requires someone to live in their adopted nation for three successive years.

Back in the 1930s things were different.

More supple rules applied to a certain Russian aristocrat, whose parents had fled to England after the Russian Revolution in 1917. The young Prince Alexander Obolensky played for Oxford University and later Rosslyn Park, and had shown himself to be an elegant winger with speed.

Selected for England he became a legend with his two famous tries against the All Blacks in January 1936 in front of the Prince of Wales at Twickenham.

The prince was introduced to Obolensky before the match and was heard to observe: “I thought I was the only prince here today.”

First victory over the All Blacks

The match was captured on newsreel. At 13-0 this was England’s first ever victory over New Zealand and there was only one hero: “Obo”.



At the outbreak of World War Two, Obolensky joined the Royal Air Force in his adopted country. He was killed aged 24, in his Hurricane fighter after a landing accident at Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, in 1940.

Today, Twickenham honours his memory with the Obolensky Suite, a glass-fronted hospitality room overlooking the pitch in the East Stand.

Photograph: Wikimedia Commons.

One Response to ““Johnnie” foreigner’s very welcome”

  1. The kit and caboodle of the game | Rugbydata

    […] such rugby customer, Alexander Obolensky (who was at Brasenose College in the 1930s) recognised the importance of pace — he was once […]


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