Page last updated at 12:08 GMT, Thursday, 8 January 2009

Statue for rugby's Russian prince

By Grant Sherlock
BBC News, Norwich

Alexander Obolensky
Prince Alexander rose to fame with his tries against the All Blacks

Rugby fans and descendants of one of England's most unlikely sporting legends are set to gather in Suffolk to unveil a statue in his memory.

Russian-born Prince Alexander Obolensky is credited with scoring one of England's greatest tries when he made his international debut in 1936.

He died in a plane crash at Martlesham Heath airfield in 1940 while serving in the RAF and is buried in Ipswich.

A Ł50,000 statue is set to be unveiled in his honour in Ipswich next month.

Prince Alexander, known as "the flying Prince", entered the history books when he scored two tries in England's first defeat of the New Zealand All Blacks.

We feel that a memorial statue here is long overdue and we're grateful to everyone for their support
James Hehir
Ipswich Borough Council

One of his tries in the 13-0 win, a run covering three quarters of the field, is considered by some experts to be among the greatest Rugby Union tries.

His selection for England caused a stir because of his Russian heritage but he gained British citizenship in 1936, paving the way for a memorable international career which was cut short after four appearances.

The statue project was the brainchild of Ipswich Borough Council chief executive James Hehir, a rugby fan, and has received financial backing from the Rugby Football Union and local businesses.

Mr Hehir will be joined by relatives of the Prince in Ipswich's Cromwell Square when Cambridge-based sculptor Harry Gray's statue of the rugby hero will be unveiled.

The ceremony is expected to be held on 18 February.

Alexander Obolensky
The Prince played an international trial at Ipswich's Portman Road in 1937

Among the relatives present will be the Prince's niece Alexandra Hulse, who lives in Odiham, Hampshire and retains the title Princess Alexandra Obolensky.

She said her family was "absolutely thrilled" with the memorial project.

"I've seen a picture of the statue and it looks amazing. It looks really impressive," she said.

"It's is a big event for us, you don't get a statue dedicated to a relative everyday.

"Many people wouldn't imagine a Russian being involved in Ipswich but he served in the RAF at Martlesham Heath and he is buried in Ipswich.

"He also had one of his international trials at the ground in Ipswich."

Mr Hehir said Prince Obolensky was a "true rugby legend".

He added: "But he was much more than just that. He was an RAF hero with strong Ipswich connections.

Prince Alexander Obolensky
Born in St Petersburg in 1916
His father Prince Serge commanded the last Tsar's Imperial Horse Guards
Arrived in England in 1917 when his family fled the Russian revolution
The day before he was killed he was picked to play for England against Wales

"We feel that a memorial statue here is long overdue and we're grateful to everyone for their support."

Prince Alexander died aged 24 when his Hawker Hurricane plane crashed on landing at Martlesham in the Second World War.

He is buried at Ipswich cemetery, where his brother Michael (Mrs Hulse's father) is also buried.

The Obolensky Lecture, an annual rugby lecture, is held in his memory and there is a hospitality suite at Twickenham Stadium called Obolensky's.

Prince Alexander, a Russian Rurikid prince, was a descendant of Rurik who established his dynasty in 862. It was later dissolved into independent principalities which came to form medieval Russian states.

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