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The English Premiership (known as the Guinness Premiership because of the league's sponsorship by Guinness) is a professional league competition for rugby union football clubs in the top division of the English rugby system. There are, at present, twelve clubs in the Premiership. The competition has been played since 1987, and has evolved into the current Premiership system employing relegation to and promotion from the National Division One competition (which will be known as the Guinness Championship from September 2009). Clubs competing in the Guinness Premiership qualify for Europe's two club competitions, the Heineken Cup and the European Challenge Cup. The current champions are the Leicester Tigers. Leeds Carnegie have been promoted winning the National Division One.


Beginnings : English Domestic Rugby until 1972

The governing body of rugby union in England, Rugby Football Union (RFU), long resisted leagues as it was believed that leagues would increase 'dirty' play and put pressure on clubs to pay their players (thus breaking the amateur ethos). Instead, clubs arranged their own friendlies and had traditional games. The only organised tournaments were the County Cups and County Championship — the former played by clubs and the latter by County representative teams. The Daily Telegraph and a few local newspapers — such as the Yorkshire Post — compiled 'pennants' based on teams' performances, but as the strength of fixture lists varied, it was at best an estimate of a team's performance throughout a season.

Cups and Leagues : 1972 - 1995

In 1972 the RFU sanctioned a national knock-out cup - the R.F.U Club Competition - followed first by regional merit tables and then, in the mid 1980s, by national merit tables. One of the casualties of the move to competitive leagues was the loss of traditional games as the new fixture lists did not allow enough time for them.

The league system has evolved since its start in 1987 when the Courage Leagues were formed - a league pyramid with 1000 clubs playing in 108 leagues each with promotion and relegation.

In the first season, clubs were expected to arrange the fixtures on mutually convenient dates. That first season was an unqualified success, with clubs in the upper echelons of the national leagues reporting increased crowds, interest from both local backers and national companies as well as higher skill levels among players exposed to regular competition. The fears that leagues would lead to greater violence on the field proved largely unfounded.

By the next season, the RFU allocated fixed Saturdays to the league season, removing the clubs' responsibility for scheduling matches. There was no home and away structure to the leagues in those early seasons, as sides played one another only once.

Initially two teams, Bath and Leicester, proved to be head and shoulders above the rest in the Courage League, and between them dominated the top of the table.

In 1994 the league structure expanded to include a full rota of home and away matches for the first time. The 1994/1995 season was the first to be shown live on Sky Sports, a relationship which continues to this day.

1996 : The dawn of Professional Rugby Union

The league turned professional for the 1996/97 season when the first winners were Wasps RFCmarker, now known as London Waspsmarker, joining Bath and Leicester as the only champions in the league's first decade. Clubs like Saracens, Newcastle and Northampton were able to attract wealthy benefactors, but the professional era also had its casualties, as clubs like West Hartlepoolmarker, Richmond and London Scottish were forced into administration when their backers pulled out.

2000 : The Premiership and the Playoffs

The re-branding of the league to the Zurich Premiership at the start 2000/01 season also brought with it a re-vamping of the season structure. In 2000–2001 an 8-team play-off system was implemented, but the regular season champion was still considered English champion ("Zurich Premiership title") with the playoff champion claiming the "Zurich Championship title".

In the 2001–2002 season a controversial knock-out cup style play-off system was introduced. Half-way through the season, with Leicester odds-on to win their fourth title in succession, it was decided that the winners of the playoffs would be crowned champions. There was an outcry from fans and this proposal was dropped, but the next year a similar proposal was adopted under which the winner of the league had to play the winner of a match between the second- and third-placed teams for the title. Although Gloucester won the league by a clear margin, they then faced a three week wait until the final. Having lost their momentum the second-placed Wasps (who had defeated third-placed Northampton) beat them easily in the play-offs. The playoff structure was reformatted in the 2005-06 season in which the first placed team would play the fourth placed team in a semi-final (a Shaughnessy playoff).

Since the implementation of the playoff system, only two teams have won both the regular season and playoffs in the same year—Leicester in 2000–2001 (the first year of the playoffs) and again in 2008-09, and Sale Sharks in 2005–06.

The Ascendancy of the Playoffs : 2003 - present

From 2002–2003 season the English Champion team has been the one winning the Championship Final. Of all the Premiership teams, London Waspsmarker have made a reputation for playing the competition format to perfection, peaking at the right time to be crowned English Champions in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2008. Wasps did not lead the league standings at the end of the season in any of these years. Indeed, the London club have not finished on top of the league placings since the playoffs began.

Conversely, Gloucester Rugby have garnered an unfortunate reputation for leading the table at the end of the regular season, only to fall short of winning the Premiership in 2003, 2007 and 2008. Gloucester's single victory in the playoffs, in 2002, occurred when the league leaders, in that season Leicester, were still considered English champions, Gloucester's Premiership Championship victory being considered secondary.

Other season highlights

Since 2004, the season has begun with the London Double Header.

On 27 December 2008 Harlequins moved their home match against Leicester Tigers across the road to Twickenham Stadiummarker in what was dubbed 'The Big Game'. 50,000 spectators attended (a Guinness Premiership record) and there are plans to hold to repeat this at Christmas 2009 and 2010.



The Guinness Premiership regular season runs from September to May and comprises 22 rounds of matches, with each club playing each of its rivals home and away. During a Premiership match, points that contribute to team standings can be earned in a number of ways:
  • 4 points will be awarded for a win
  • 2 points will be awarded for a draw
  • 1 additional (bonus) point will be awarded to a team that loses a match by 7 points or fewer
  • 1 additional (bonus) point will be awarded to a team scoring 4 tries or more in a match

After the completion of the 22 regular season rounds, the final standings of the twelve clubs determine which teams enter the finals - the top four clubs in the standings enter the semi-finals. The club that finishes at the top of the table earns a home game in their semi-final against the fourth-placed club. The club that finishes second in the standings also earns a home semi-final, hosting the third-placed club. The two semi-finals are played in May, with the winners of both games entering the championship final, which is played at Twickenham Stadiummarker. The winner of the final are the season champions.

Promotion and relegation

See also English rugby union system
There is a system of promotion and relegation to and from the Guinness Premiership. The last placed club after the 22 regular season rounds of the Premiership is relegated into the Guinness Championship (the former National Division One), while the winner of the Championship is promoted to the Premiership for the subsequent season. However, promotion and relegation is subject to a Minimum Standards Criteria.

European competitions

Teams playing in the Guinness Premiership also compete in the two European Rugby Cup competitions: the Heineken Cup and the European Challenge Cup. The number of clubs taking part in either competition varies each season according to performances of English clubs in the prior season. The top four placed clubs in the Guinness Premiership qualify for the Heineken Cup, though more clubs can qualify in a number of ways: the previous season's Heineken Cup winner, the champion of the European Challenge Cup or the winner of the EDF Energy Cup. In total, six clubs usually compete in the Heineken Cup.

Following changes to European qualification that take effect in the 2009–10 season, the winners of the Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup will receive berths in the following year's Heineken Cup, which will not usually count against the Premiership's allocation. However, the number of English teams in the Heineken Cup is capped at seven. If Premiership clubs win both European trophies during a given season, only five other clubs can earn Heineken Cup berths through the league or EDF Energy Cup.

Seven Premiership clubs will compete in the Heineken Cup if either of the following occurs:
  • A Premiership club wins either of the previous season's European trophies.
  • Both European trophies in the previous season were won by clubs from France (which is also capped at seven Heineken Cup teams), and the club that stands highest in the European Rugby Club Rankings among those not already qualified for the Heineken Cup is English.

All clubs that do not qualify for the Heineken Cup play in the European Challenge Cup.


2009-10 teams

Team Stadium Capacity City/Area
Bath Recreation Groundmarker 11,700 Bathmarker, Somersetmarker
Gloucester Kingsholm Stadiummarker 16,500 Gloucestermarker, Gloucestershiremarker
Harlequins Twickenham Stoopmarker 12,700 Twickenhammarker, Middlesexmarker/Londonmarker
Leeds Headingley Stadiummarker 22,500 Leedsmarker, West Yorkshire
Leicester Tigers Welford Roadmarker 24,500 Leicestermarker, Leicestershiremarker
London Irish Madejski Stadiummarker 24,161 Readingmarker, Berkshire
London Waspsmarker Adams Parkmarker 10,000 High Wycombemarker, Buckinghamshire
Newcastle Falcons Kingston Parkmarker 10,200 Newcastlemarker, Tyne and Wear
Northampton Saints Franklin's Gardensmarker 13,600 Northamptonmarker, Northamptonshiremarker
Sale Sharks Edgeley Parkmarker 10,852 Stockportmarker, Greater Manchestermarker
Saracens Vicarage Roadmarker 19,920 Watfordmarker, Hertfordshiremarker
Worcester Warriors Sixways Stadiummarker 13,200 Worcestermarker, Worcestershire

Current Standings


By year

Courage League

Allied Dunbar Premiership

Zurich Premiership

Wasps became the first team to be crowned English champions through the playoffs.

Guinness Premiership

Premiership finals

on all occasions at Twickenham Stadiummarker

Season Date Champion Score Runner-up Attendance League champions
1987-88 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A Leicester Tigers
1988-89 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A Bath Rugby
1989-90 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A Wasps FC
1990-91 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A Bath Rugby
1991-92 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A Bath Rugby
1992-93 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A Bath Rugby
1993-94 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A Bath Rugby
1994-95 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A Leicester Tigers
1995-96 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A Bath Rugby
1996-97 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A Wasps RFCmarker
1997-98 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A Newcastle Falcons
1998-99 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A Leicester Tigers
1999-00 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A Leicester Tigers
2000-01 13 May 2001 Leicester Tigers 22-10 Bath Rugby 33,500 Leicester Tigers
2001-02 8 June 2002 Gloucester Rugby 28-23 Bristolmarker 28,500 Leicester Tigers
2002-03 31 May 2003 London Waspsmarker 39-3 Gloucester Rugby 42,000 Gloucester Rugby
2003-04 29 May 2004 London Waspsmarker 10-6 Bath Rugby 59,500 Bath Rugby
2004-05 14 May 2005 London Waspsmarker 39-14 Leicester Tigers 66,000 Leicester Tigers
2005-06 27 May 2006 Sale Sharks 45-20 Leicester Tigers 58,000 Sale Sharks
2006-07 12 May 2007 Leicester Tigers 44-16 Gloucester Rugby 59,000 Gloucester Rugby
2007-08 31 May 2008 London Waspsmarker 26-16 Leicester Tigers 81,600 Gloucester Rugby
2008-09 16 May 2009 Leicester Tigers 10-9 London Irish 81,601 Leicester Tigers

By Championship Wins

Team Premiership Titles Years of Titles Won Topped League Standings
Leicester 8 1988, 1995, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2009 8
Bath 6 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996 7
Waspsmarker 6 1990, 1997, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008 2
Newcastle 1 1998 1
Sale 1 2006 1
Gloucester Rugby 0 n/a 3

Media coverage

In Australia the Guinness Premiership is currently available on Setanta Sports, while in the UK, comprehensive coverage of the league is provided by Sky Sports, who televise at least one match a week, and a Thursday evening highlights and discussion show know as 'The Rugby Club' As of the 2008/9 season there will be a highlights show on ITV4, which will be repeated midweek on ITV1. From the 2010/11 season Setanta Sports were due to show 46 live games per season, Whilst Sky Sports were to show only 23. However, due to Setanta's administration and then closure in the UK, their televised rights have been given back for re-tender.

See also


External links

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