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(With thanks to Bob Phillips for the research.)

The oldest school rugby tournament is played in Great Britain comprised of four schools. The match is titled the Veterrimi IV, a fancy Latin term for “oldest” followed by a Roman numeral. The abbreviation of the event is “V IV.”

The group includes the four oldest school rugby clubs in the world.

  • Cheltenham College - Founded in 1841, Gloucestershire
  • Rugby School - 1567, Warwickshire
  • Sherbourne School - 1550, Dorset
  • Durham, 1441 – Durham

Rugby football began at Rugby School in 1823 via the William Webb Ellis “picking up the ball” anecdote. That event is marked by a plaque on the campus (The Close) and by a large statue of Ellis. He is buried on the French Riviera.

All four schools advanced players into the Oxford-Cambridge Varsity match, and number many internationals for England, Wales, and Scotland.

Part of the reason for the spectacular spread of rugby throughout public schools and universities in the mid-19th Century can be attributed to the brilliant Rugby School Head Master Dr. Arnold (1828 to 1842). He established the Masters system, emphasizing moral principles, gentlemanly conduct, and academic ability. Arnold’s system was captured in literature in “Tom Brown’s School Days” by Thomas Hughes, a Rugby alumnus.

The first international match in 1871 where Scotland played England at Raeburn Palace, Edinburgh, saw ten of the twenty English players coming from Rugby School. They were called Old Rugbeins then as now.

Of note to any American rugby club that tours England is the fact that, with advanced notice to the Head of Rugby at Rugby School, the visitors can train on one of the school’s many pitches. There is a small museum about the beginnings of rugby.

The Veterrimi IV is played on October, rotating among the four schools.