Unbeatable seasons

Sherborne School’s 1st XV has recorded eighteen unbeaten seasons (to date): 1906, 1908, 1928, 1930, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1952, 1960, 1964, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1992.

The School celebrated their first unbeaten season in 1906, winning 11 matches out of 11, scoring 24 goals and 41 tries.  The fixtures that year included three inter-school games (Llandovery College, St Paul’s School, Tonbridge School).  The matches against St Paul’s and Tonbridge were usually considered to be the highlights of the season.

The team that year was coached by Godfrey Carey, the former England forward, who was aided by Sidney Lockyer, a Somerset-born player with Clifton R.F.C., who coached the backs.

1st XV Sherborne School, 1906

Members of the 1906 1st XV.

Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein inspecting the Sherborne CCF on the Upper, 26 June 1959.

On 17 November 1906, the team won a 41-5 victory over St Paul’s School, whose captain that year was to become Field Marshal Montgomery.  On 26 June 1959, Monty returned to the Upper, the scene of his team’s defeat nearly 53 years earlier, to inspect Sherborne School’s Combined Cadet Force.  Monty was apparently very impressed by what he saw and, when carrying out subsequent school inspections, he apparently compared them all unfavourably with Sherborne.

On 24 November 1906, Sherborne travelled to Tonbridge where they recorded their first-ever victory over Tonbridge on their own ground.  The match had to start early to allow the Sherborne team to catch the 3.30 train home, but, supported by the School and a large gathering of Old Shirburnians, by half-time Sherborne had 9 points to Tonbridge’s 6.  Tonbridge made a great effort towards the end but Sherborne’s defence proved too strong, with the result that Sherborne was victorious by 1 penalty goal and 4 tries (15 points) to 2 tries (6 points).  Sherborne thanked Tonbridge whose ‘wholehearted cheering at the end was as sportsmanlike on their part as it was pleasing to us.  With these few words of gratitude, we close with our annual wish that Tonbridge and Sherborne may long be friendly foes.’

Charles Tancock (1851-1922), Sherborne XV 1868.

The fact that Tonbridge’s headmaster, the Rev. Charles Tancock (1851-1922), was an Old Shirburnian must have resulted in some hearty ribbing between the teams and their supporters, particularly because Tancock had been a member of Sherborne’s first XV in 1868.

In March 1907, The Shirburnian reported that ‘we must sincerely congratulate this year’s XV., who can boast an unbeaten record.  To quote the Headmaster, ‘the team owes it success, not to possessing two or three brilliant individual players, but to being a good “all-round” team.’  It is a great feat for a small school like Sherborne to possess – if not THE strongest – at any rate one of the strongest public school teams of year.  We all owe a deep debt of gratitude to Mr G.M. Carey for so carefully coaching the team, and to the Captain, C. O’D. Carey, for the brilliant manner in which he led his side to victory.’

The Shirburnian added that, ‘beyond all else, this year has bequeathed to those that follow the rich inheritance of a splendid spirit of unanimity, loyal, indomitable, unselfish and modest withal, each member of the XV played not for himself, nor for his House, but for the School. To such a side nothing was impossible… the prospects for the future are bright and encouraging.’


Unbeaten seasons followed in 1908, 1928, 1930, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1952, 1960 and 1964, but perhaps the most outstanding period for the Sherborne rugby football came during a four-year period from 1975 to 1978, when the 1st XV played 35 games and won them all, scoring 148 tries in the process and conceding just fourteen.   This phenomenal run owed much to the boys’ talent, skill and determination, but also to the incredible coaching skills of Phil Jones, a top class player who had played for Cambridge University, and Mike Davis, the holder of sixteen England caps.  The 1st XV’s unbeaten run came to an end when Davis was called away by the England selectors, who disappointed with the national performance benefited from Davis’ coaching, resulting in England winning the Grand Slam in his first season, 1979-80.

Phil Jones and Mike Davis with the unbeaten XV of 1976


The 1st XV saw another unbeaten season in 1992, again coached by Mike Davis who said that the secret of the team’s success lay in ‘teamwork with both forwards and backs showing superb running skills and support play’, adding that the team had excellent decision makers who were able to vary the tactics during the game and to respond to the opposition play.

1st XV 1992


Further reading:
The early days of rugby at Sherborne School
Playing Fields & Pavilions
A.B. Gourlay, A History of Sherborne School (Sherborne, 1971).
D.F. Gibbs, A History of Football at Sherborne School (Sherborne, 1983).
Robert Hands, Rugby Football at Sherborne School  (Sherborne, 1991).

For further information about the Sherborne School Archives please contact the School Archivist.

Return to the School Archives homepage.