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England - National championship

Overview Honours Roll Team appearances Related trophies Sources Current Season

Overview

The beginning

Whilst there were experiments with county leagues in the north in the nineteenth century, for most of english rugby union's history there have been no organised leagues. The 1970s saw the creation of a national cup and a series of regional and county merit leagues (the most important of which being the North, Midlands, South West and London merit league).

The Merit Tables

In 1984 this was taken one step further with the creation of two national merit leagues for the top twenty four clubs (based around playing a minimum of sixteen fixtures against each other, a factor which led to Exeter Chiefs's exclusion after consideration). The top division had three clubs from each of the major merit leagues. In these clubs had to play a minimum of eight fixtures against the other clubs in their division but it was largely based around pre-existing fixtures. There was a system of promotion and relegation between the Merit Tables. 1985 saw the addition of a third national merit table, albeit without promotion and relegation to the top two.

The 1984/85 Merit Table A was composed by Bath, Bristol Rugby, Coventry, Gloucester, Gosforth, Harlequins, Leicester Tigers, London Irish, London Scottish, Moseley, Orrell and Sale Sharks, while the Merit Table B was composed by Bedford Blues, Blackheath, Headingley, Liverpool, London Welsh, Northampton Saints, Nottingham, Richmond, Rosslyn Park, Saracens, Wasps and Waterloo.

At the end of the first season Coventry, London Irish and Orrell were relegated to Merit Table B while Headingley, Nottingham and Wasps were promoted to Merit Table A.
The new Merit Table C were formed by Birmingham, Exeter Chiefs, Fylde, Metropolitan Police, Morley, Nuneaton, Plymouth Albion, Roundhay, Sheffield, Vale of Lune, Wakefield and West Hartlepool.

At the end of the second season Gosforth and Headingley were relegated to Merit Table B while Orrell and Coventry were promoted to Merit Table A.

The birth of the national championship

In late spring 1987 the merit tables formed the basis of the top three divisions of the national league system with London Scottish relegated from Merit Table A to Division 2 and Waterloo promoted from Merit Table B to Division 1.
For the first season there were no fixed fixtures so clubs had to arrange their own (to a minimum of ten out of eleven opponents, only one game against each club could count). For the initial season there was no promotion and relegation between Division 2 and Division 3 but this was created for the following season. Division 3 had a minimum of two clubs per region (with the top four clubs in the previous season's Merit Table C getting a guaranteed spot outside this quota) thus Roundhay missed out on a spot to Maidstone.

In 1988 clubs had their fixtures set by the league for them though still only played each other once. Since 1993/94 season the league structure expanded to includ a full rota of home and away matches.

The first idea of a final playoff: the Zurich Championship

In 2000/01 it was decided to play an 8 team playoff (Zurich Championship) at the end of the season but the winner of the regular season was still considered the national champion. This structure was mantained for the next season.

The final structure with playoffs

Since 2002/03 a new playoff format was introduced to decide the league champion.

After the 2014 reform of european competitions, Premiership qualify six teams for the Champions Cup and one team for the Champions Cup Playoff. Other teams play the Challenge Cup.

Salary Cap

The Premiership's salary cap has been in place since the late 1990s.By 2007–08, the cap reached £2.2 million. In the following season, it nearly doubled to £4 million, and remained at that amount through the 2011–12 season. A provision applicable only in seasons that run up against the quadrennial Rugby World Cup, such as 2011–12, gives teams a £30,000 credit for each player in the squad participating in the competition, helping them to manage their reduced squads in the season's early weeks. In addition, each club has a salary cap of £200,000 for its academy players, and is allowed to provide an unlimited educational fund to enable its players to pursue university or vocational training. Finally, each club has a separate cap of £400,000 for use in signing replacements for players lost to long-term injuries (12 weeks or more).

Through 2011–12, the cap remained at £4 million. However, academy credits were introduced that season. Teams now receive a £30,000 credit for each home-grown player in their senior squads who is under age 24 at the start of the season and earns more than £30,000, with a maximum of eight such credits. This increased the effective cap to a maximum of £4.24 million (not counting World Cup roster credits).

Two substantial changes took effect for 2012–13. First, the cap increased to £4.26 million before academy credits and up to £4.5 million with credits. The most significant change is that each team is now allowed to sign one player whose salary does not count against the cap, similar to the Designated Player Rule in MLS. The player so designated, which the Premiership calls an "excluded player", must meet one of the following three criteria:
  • Played at least two full seasons with his current club before his designation.
  • Played outside the Premiership in the season before his designation.
  • Included in the official squad of any participant in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final tournament.


For the 2014–15 season, the cap increased to £4.76 million before academy credits and up to £5 million with credits. Other features of the cap remained unchanged.

The league pyramid

The last reform of the league pyramid was in 2009. Since 2009/10 season the league structure is the following:

Level 1 Premiership
12 teams - 1 relegation
Level 2 Championship
12 teams - 1 promotion and 1 relegation
Level 3 National League 1
16 teams - 1 promotion and 3 relegations
Level 4 National League 2 - North
16 teams - 1 promotion, 1 qualification to promotion playoff and 3 relegations
National League 2 - South
16 teams - 1 promotion, 1 qualification to promotion playoff and 3 relegations
Level 5 National League 3 - Midlands
14 teams
National League 3 - North
14 teams
National League 3 - South East
14 teams
National League 3 - South West
14 teams
Level 6 Midlands 1 - West
14 teams
Midlands 1 - East
14 teams
North 1 - West
14 teams
North 1 - East
14 teams
London 1 - North
14 teams
London 1 - South
14 teams
South West 1 - West
14 teams
South West 1 - East
14 teams
Level 7-12 Lower Leagues
4 to 6 levels



Honours Roll


Team appearances

Premiership Championship
TeamTeam
appearances
First
appearance
Last
appearance
Bath 31 1987/88 2017/18
Gloucester 31 1987/88 2017/18
Leicester Tigers 31 1987/88 2017/18
Wasps 31 1987/88 2017/18
Harlequins 30 1987/88 2017/18
Saracens 27 1989/90 2017/18
Northampton Saints 26 1990/91 2017/18
Sale Sharks 25 1987/88 2017/18
London Irish 24 1991/92 2017/18
Newcastle Falcons 21 1993/94 2017/18
Bristol Rugby 20 1987/88 2016/17
Worcester Warriors 12 2004/05 2017/18
Orrell 10 1987/88 1996/97
Exeter Chiefs 8 2010/11 2017/18
Yorkshire Carnegie 8 2001/02 2010/11
Nottingham 5 1987/88 1991/92
West Hartlepool 5 1992/93 1998/99
Birmingham Moseley 4 1987/88 1990/91
Rosslyn Park 4 1988/89 1991/92
Bedford Blues 3 1989/90 1999/00
Liverpool St Helens 2 1988/89 1990/91
London Scottish 2 1992/93 1998/99
London Welsh 2 2012/13 2014/15
Richmond 2 1997/98 1998/99
Rotherham Titans 2 2000/01 2003/04
Rugby Lions 2 1991/92 1992/93
Waterloo 2 1987/88 1988/89
Coventry 1 1987/88 1987/88
TeamTeam appearancesFirst
appearance
Last
appearance
Bedford Blues 26 1987/88 2017/18
Birmingham Moseley 22 1991/92 2015/16
Coventry 20 1988/89 2009/10
Rotherham Titans 20 1996/97 2017/18
London Welsh 19 1987/88 2016/17
Nottingham 19 1992/93 2017/18
London Scottish 16 1987/88 2017/18
Plymouth Albion 16 1989/90 2014/15
Cornish Pirates 15 2003/04 2017/18
Wakefield 14 1990/91 2003/04
Exeter Chiefs 13 1997/98 2009/10
Waterloo 13 1989/90 2006/07
Doncaster Knights 12 2005/06 2017/18
Yorkshire Carnegie 12 1998/99 2017/18
Bristol Rugby 11 1998/99 2017/18
Birmingham & Solihull 10 2000/01 2010/11
Blackheath 10 1987/88 1998/99
Newcastle Falcons 10 1987/88 2012/13
Otley 9 1993/94 2008/09
Richmond 8 1987/88 2017/18
Rugby Lions 8 1989/90 2002/03
Worcester Warriors 8 1998/99 2014/15
London Irish 7 1987/88 2016/17
Orrell 7 1997/98 2004/05
Jersey 6 2012/13 2017/18
Manchester 6 1999/00 2008/09
Sale Sharks 6 1988/89 1993/94
Henley Hawks 5 1999/00 2004/05
Northampton Saints 5 1987/88 2007/08
Sedgley Park 5 2004/05 2008/09
Ealing Trailfinders 4 2013/14 2017/18
Esher 4 2007/08 2011/12
Fylde 4 1992/93 1998/99
Headingley 4 1987/88 1990/91
Newbury 4 2005/06 2008/09
Saracens 4 1987/88 1994/95
West Hartlepool 4 1991/92 1999/00
Liverpool St Helens 3 1987/88 1991/92
Morley 2 1991/92 1992/93
Rosslyn Park 2 1987/88 1992/93
Bracknell 1 2001/02 2001/02
Cornish All Blacks 1 2007/08 2007/08
Harlequins 1 2005/06 2005/06
Hartpury College 1 2017/18 2017/18

Related trophies

Zurich Championship
Season:WinnersRunners upFormatResult
2001/02Gloucester (1)Bristol ShogunsFinal28-23
2000/01Leicester Tigers (1)BathFinal22-10
TeamTitlesRunners up
Gloucester10
Leicester Tigers10
Bath01
Bristol Shoguns01


Sources

www.bbc.com - BBC site
www.englandrugby.com - English rugby union site (former www.rfu.com).
www.premiershiprugby.com - Premiership site
www.ncarugby.org - National league club association site
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rugby_Union_in_England - Wikipedia pages about english rugby
Every site was scanned using also web.archive.org
Many data were found on Rothmans Rugby Union Yearbook of various years.