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Continuing a series of extracts from the book 100 years of Twickenham and the five/six nations we look at the highlights from the 1930s.
Mick Cleary, rugby correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, provides the narrative, while leading rugby historian and statistician Chris Rhys provides an authoritative record of every game played in each decade of the competition plus additional records and tables. The book is available to order online from www.RFUDirect.com.
The 1930s saw the arrival on the scene of two of the most admired and acknowledged Welshmen of this or any other era – Wilf Wooller and Vivian Jenkins, both of whom made their international debuts against England in 1933. These were men of real stature in the game, both within Wales and at large. Wooller, from north Wales, was that bit more versatile than Jenkins as a sportsman. In fact, Wooller was that bit more versatile than almost any other sportsman in the land.
Jenkins, meanwhile, was no mean all-round sportsman himself, also playing first-class cricket (for Oxford University and Glamorgan, 1931–37) besides representing Wales at rugby. Against Ireland in 1934, he became the first Welshman to score a try from full back. A rock under the high ball, Jenkins played 14 times forWales but in just one Test for the Lions, against South Africa in 1938.
The Scots also had their men of note. The 1933 season was to be the final campaign for Ian Smith, flying wing and that year’s captain of Scotland as they won the championship and Triple Crown. Born in Melbourne, Australia, but educated at Winchester College and Oxford University, Smith racked up 24 international tries in his career (a world record until overtaken by Wallaby David Campese in 1987), including eight in 1925 to equal the season record for the Five Nations held by England’s Cyril Lowe.
Obolensky lights up Twickenham
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It is no disrespect to the achievements of the players described above to suggest that one name from the 1930s retains a significance that is beyond even them, that of Prince Alexander Obolensky. Celebrity has always had its allure, even in those austere times, and while others achieved more, some, Obolensky among them, managed to strike a chord that resonates still.
A Russian in the white of England, Obolensky abided by the old showbiz maxim of ‘leave ’em wanting more’, playing a single season of international rugby in 1936 while at Oxford University. Obolensky was born in St Petersburg, the son of a prince who fled to London’s Muswell Hill during the 1917 revolution in Russia (not many in those parts had Muswell Hill located on their radar at the time). Becoming a British citizen only in 1936, the year of his debut, young ‘Obo’ scored twice against New Zealand on an astonishing first international appearance as England beat the All Blacks 13-0 at Twickenham. One try was a curved run from right to left over half the pitch, in which Obolensky left defenders trailing. Style and potency, not a bad mix. Small wonder he is still spoken of.