Prince Obolensky’s story shows international eligibility has always been controversial in rugby
It was the Russian’s second try and he inspired England to their very first victory over New Zealand, enshrining his name Obolensky in the rugby folklore of his adopted country. Yet this might never have happened.
The biography, by rugby journalist Hugh Godwin, tells the remarkable story that brought the striking blonde winger to Twickenham, after his family was forced to flee St. Petersburg in 1919 during the height of the Russian Revolution.
Despite living in England since the age of two, the selection of the 19-year-old Oxford University student created a storm of controversy over his eligibility.
Obolensky would have easily qualified under today’s rules, which allow a player to play for his adopted country with an extended three to five year residency that goes into effect next month. England.
The book first reveals that there was even a formal proposal made to the Rugby Football Union full committee to prevent his selection, which if approved, would have changed the history of the sport.
The uncovered minutes of the meeting, which took place before the final test match, show that the relevant point was titled “Qualification of international players” and simply stated that “Prince A Obolensky who had been selected for the England against The Rest ”. An amendment was also proposed so that “he is not qualified until he is naturalized as a British subject”.
No detail of the debate has survived, but luckily the minutes only noted that “the amendment was put to a vote and lost.” The original motion was then voted on and defeated.
Obolensky will only win four caps for England, despite playing for Lions and Barbarians. He joined the Royal Air Force to serve his adopted country and died at the controls of a hurricane in March 1940, at the age of only 24.
And it’s a story that recalls how the landscape of international rugby has changed dramatically since its exhilarating beginnings.
The pressure to achieve results and the financial consequences since gambling turned professional in 1995 has at times pushed the boundaries far beyond natural migration, with some countries actively recruiting “project players” with the intention of strengthening their skills. playing pool thanks to the qualification of residence.
Which brings us to World Rugby’s bold move last week to bring a greater sense of balance to the pressures generated by the immense variations between nations in the financial rewards for playing the rugby test.
Steps had already been taken to extend the residency rule from three to five years (which will come into effect next month) and the second step is to attempt to release players who had been capped by their adopted country and then be eliminated quickly.
The new amendment to “Rule 8” could have the greatest impact of all, both on the short and long term development of international rugby. From January, players who have not played international rugby for three years will be allowed to transfer to another country if they were born there or if they have a parent or grandparent born in that country. .
The immediate impact is expected to lead to a host of Pacific Islander players returning to their home countries, which should have exciting consequences for the World Cup in France.
Tonga, who are expected to be in the same group as Ireland, Scotland and South Africa, are expected to be boosted by the return of Charles Piutau, Israel Folau, Ngani Laumape and Vaea Fifita. The Samoa squad could now include Lima Sopoaga, Julian Savea, Victor Vito, Steven Luatua and former England winger Denny Solomona.