English Premiership (rugby union)

English Premiership (rugby union)
Aviva Premiership
Current season or competition:
2011–12 Aviva Premiership
Aviva Premiership logo.svg
Sport Rugby union
Instituted 1987
Number of teams 12
Country  England
Holders Saracens (2010–11)
Most titles Leicester Tigers (9 titles)
Website premiershiprugby.com
Broadcast partner ITV (Highlights only)
Sky Sports

The English Premiership, also currently known as the Aviva Premiership because of the league's sponsorship by Aviva,[1] is a professional league competition for rugby union football clubs in the top division of the English rugby system. There are 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 RFU Championship, known as National Division One before the 2009–10 season. Clubs competing in the Aviva Premiership qualify for Europe's two club competitions, the Heineken Cup and the European Challenge Cup. The current champions are Saracens. Worcester Warriors returned to the top flight at their first opportunity after defeating Cornish Pirates in the RFU Championship Final on 18 May 2011, while Leeds Carnegie returned to the second tier after two seasons in the Premiership.



See also History of the English rugby union system

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, the predecessor to today's Anglo-Welsh Cup — 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 roughly 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. The clubs involved were Bath, Bristol, Coventry, Gloucester, Harlequins, Leicester, Moseley, Nottingham, Orrell, Sale, Wasps and Waterloo. 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 1994–95 season was the first to be shown live on Sky Sports, a relationship which continues to this day.

1996: The dawn of Professional Rugby

The league turned professional for the 1996/97 season when the first winners were Wasps RFC, now known as London Wasps, 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 Hartlepool, Richmond and London Scottish were forced into administration when their backers pulled out.

2000 to 2002: Zurich Premiership, Zurich Championship 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 (the Zurich Championship) was introduced. However, the team finishing top of the table at the end of the regular season was still considered English champions ("Zurich Premiership title").

Half-way through the 2001–02 season, with Leicester odds-on to win their fourth title in succession, it was controversially decided that the winners of the 8-team playoffs would be crowned English champions.[2] There was an outcry from fans and this proposal was dropped.

The Ascendancy of the Playoffs: 2003 – present

From the beginning of the 2002 -03 season, a new playoff format was introduced to replace the 8-team Zurich Championship. The format required the first placed team in the league to play the winner of a match between the second- and third-placed teams. Critically, the winner of this game (the Premiership Final) would be recognised as English champions. 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 2000–01 (the first year of the playoffs) and again in 2008–09 and 2009–10, and Sale Sharks in 2005–06. Of all the Premiership teams, London Wasps 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 top of the league 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 title 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 Zurich Championship victory being considered secondary. The 2010-11 season saw Saracens add their name to the trophy with a repeat of the 2010 final against the then-current and nine-time champions Leicester Tigers. With their first ever English Championship, they are only the fifth club to win the Premiership since it's existence back in 1997, joining the likes of Newcastle Falcons, London Wasps, Leicester Tigers and Sale Sharks.

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 Stadium in what was dubbed 'The Big Game'. 50,000 spectators attended (a Premiership record) and this was repeated at Christmas 2010 after successfully holding another in 2009. 'The Big Game 3' was held between Harlequins and London Irish, where Harlequins won. The game also had the years X-Factor winner Matt Cardle, and the runner up perform before the game, and at half time. On 24 April 2010, Wasps also moved their home match with Bath to Twickenham for the St George's Day game in support of Help for Heroes.This was repeated in 2011 and resulted in Bath thrashing Wasps 43–10.



The Aviva 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 are awarded for a win
  • 2 points are awarded for a draw
  • 1 additional (bonus) point is awarded to a team that loses a match by 7 points or fewer
  • 1 additional (bonus) point is 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 Stadium. 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 Aviva Premiership. The last placed club after the 22 regular season rounds of the Premiership is relegated into the RFU Championship (the former National Division One), while the winner of the Championship play offs is promoted to the Premiership for the subsequent season. However, promotion and relegation is subject to a Minimum Standards Criteria. If the winner of the play offs does not meet these standards, then there is no relegation/promotion, as would have been the case in the most recent season (2010–11) if Cornish Pirates had defeated Worcester. They did not, confirming Leeds' relegation and Worcester's return to the Premiership.

European competitions

Teams playing in the Aviva Premiership also compete in the two European Rugby Cup competitions: the Heineken Cup and the Amlin 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 Aviva 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 LV Cup (officially "LV=" per the sponsor's branding). In total, six clubs usually compete in the Heineken Cup.

More precisely, Premiership Rugby nominates clubs for the Heineken Cup in the following order, skipping any places occupied by clubs that are either outside the Premiership or qualified in a prior step:[3]

  1. Heineken Cup holder
  2. Challenge Cup holder
  3. Premiership champion
  4. Premiership runner-up
  5. Premiership semi-finalists (2 teams)
  6. Anglo-Welsh Cup holder
  7. Fifth-, sixth, and seventh-place teams, in that order, until the Premiership's Heineken Cup allocation is filled

As an example, the Premiership's seven 2011–12 Heineken Cup places were filled as follows, based on 2010–11 season results:

  1. Skipped—2010–11 Heineken Cup won by Leinster of the Celtic League
  2. Harlequins as 2010–11 Challenge Cup winners (1). Note that Quins' Challenge Cup victory gave England an extra Heineken Cup berth.
  3. Saracens (2)
  4. Leicester Tigers (3)
  5. Gloucester (4) and Northampton Saints (5)
  6. Skipped—2010–11 LV= Cup winners Gloucester qualified as Premiership semi-finalists
  7. Bath as fifth-place team (6) and London Irish as sixth-place team (7)

Following changes to European qualification rules that took effect in the 2009–10 season, the winners of the Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup 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 LV= 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.[3]


  • Courage League: 1987–88 to 1996–97
  • Allied Dunbar Premiership: 1997–98 to 1999–2000
  • Zurich Premiership: 2000–01 to 2004–05
  • Guinness Premiership: 2005–06 to 2009–10
  • Aviva Premiership: 2010–11 to 2013–14

2011–12 teams

2011–12 Aviva Premiership Teams
Team Stadium Capacity Location
Bath Recreation Ground 12,300[4] Bath, Somerset
Exeter Chiefs Sandy Park 10,744 Exeter, Devon
Gloucester Kingsholm Stadium 16,500 Gloucester, Gloucestershire
Harlequins Twickenham Stoop 14,816 Twickenham, London
Leicester Tigers Welford Road 24,000 Leicester, Leicestershire
London Irish Madejski Stadium 24,161 Reading, Berkshire
London Wasps Adams Park 10,516 High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Newcastle Falcons Kingston Park 10,200 Newcastle, Tyne and Wear
Northampton Saints Franklin's Gardens 13,600 Northampton, Northamptonshire
Sale Sharks Edgeley Park 10,852 Stockport, Greater Manchester
Saracens Vicarage Road 19,920 Watford, Hertfordshire
Worcester Warriors Sixways Stadium 12,068 Worcester, Worcestershire

Current standings

English Premiership Table watch · edit · discuss
Club Played Won Drawn Lost Points For Points Against Points Difference Tries For Tries Against Try Bonus Losing Bonus Points
1 Harlequins 8 8 0 0 234 143 +91 23 13 2 0 34
2 Saracens 8 7 0 1 195 122 +73 17 12 1 1 30
3 London Irish 8 3 1 4 221 195 +26 20 18 2 4 20
4 Gloucester 8 4 0 4 167 163 +4 14 15 0 3 19
5 Sale Sharks 8 4 0 4 177 201 -24 18 19 1 2 19
6 Northampton Saints 8 4 0 4 177 136 +41 15 10 1 1 18
7 Bath 8 4 0 4 153 169 -16 12 9 0 2 18
8 London Wasps 8 4 0 4 148 169 -21 15 10 1 1 18
9 Exeter Chiefs 8 3 0 5 150 170 -20 14 17 1 4 17
10 Leicester Tigers 8 2 1 5 210 231 -21 20 25 1 3 14
11 Worcester Warriors 8 2 1 5 110 151 -41 7 13 0 2 12
12 Newcastle Falcons 8 1 1 6 130 222 -92 9 23 0 1 7

If teams are level at any stage, tiebreakers are applied in the following order:

  1. Number of matches won
  2. Difference between points for and against
  3. Total number of points for
  4. Aggregate number of points scored in matches between tied teams
  5. Number of matches won excluding the first match, then the second and so on until the tie is settled
Green background (rows 1 to 4) are play-off places, and receive berths in the 2011–12 Heineken Cup. Blue background (rows 5 and 6) are clubs that do not make the play-offs, but will receive Heineken Cup berths. Red background (row 12) to be relegated if the champion of the RFU Championship meets the requirements for promotion. Updated 09 October 2011 — Current English Leagues

source:Premiership Rugby



By year

Courage League

Allied Dunbar Premiership

Zurich Premiership

Guinness Premiership

Aviva Premiership

Premiership finals

On all occasions at Twickenham Stadium

Season Playoff Winner Score Runner-up Attendance First place in table*
1987-88 N/A N/A N/A N/A Leicester Tigers
1988–89 N/A N/A N/A N/A Bath
1989–90 N/A N/A N/A N/A Wasps
1990–91 N/A N/A N/A N/A Bath
1991–92 N/A N/A N/A N/A Bath
1992–93 N/A N/A N/A N/A Bath
1993–94 N/A N/A N/A N/A Bath
1994–95 N/A N/A N/A N/A Leicester Tigers
1995–96 N/A N/A N/A N/A Bath
1996–97 N/A N/A N/A N/A London Wasps
1997–98 N/A N/A N/A N/A Newcastle Falcons
1998–99 N/A N/A N/A N/A Leicester Tigers
1999-00 N/A N/A N/A N/A Leicester Tigers
2000–01 Leicester Tigers 22–10 Bath 33,500 Leicester Tigers
2001–02 Gloucester 28–23 Bristol 28,500 Leicester Tigers
2002–03 London Wasps 39–3 Gloucester 42,000 Gloucester
2003–04 London Wasps 10–6 Bath 59,500 Bath
2004–05 London Wasps 39–14 Leicester Tigers 66,000 Leicester Tigers
2005–06 Sale Sharks 45–20 Leicester Tigers 58,000 Sale Sharks
2006–07 Leicester Tigers 44–16 Gloucester 59,000 Gloucester
2007–08 London Wasps 26–16 Leicester Tigers 81,600 Gloucester
2008–09 Leicester Tigers 10–9 London Irish 81,601 Leicester Tigers
2009–10 Leicester Tigers 33–27 Saracens 81,600 Leicester Tigers
2010–11 Saracens 22–18 Leicester Tigers 80,016 Leicester Tigers
  • until 2002–2003, first in table were champions. Since then, the playoff final winner are the champions.

By Premiership wins

Team Premiership Titles Years of Titles Won Topped League Standings
Leicester Tigers 9 1988, 1995, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2009, 2010 9
Bath 6 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996 7
London Wasps 6 1990, 1997, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008 2
Newcastle Falcons 1 1998 1
Sale Sharks 1 2006 1
Saracens 1 2011 0
Gloucester 0 n/a 3

Participation in the top flight

A total of 27 clubs have been involved in top flight league since its inception in the 1987–88 season; the most recent team to make its top-flight debut was Exeter in 2010–11. Four, namely Bath, Gloucester, Leicester Tigers and Wasps, have appeared in all 25 seasons to date. Coventry, Liverpool St Helens, Moseley, Nottingham, Rosslyn Park, Rugby and Waterloo only appeared during the amateur era, whereas Exeter, Leeds, Richmond, Rotherham and Worcester have only appeared during the profesional era. Below, the 2011–12 clubs are listed in bold; omnipresent clubs are listed in bold italics. Years listed are the calendar years in which the seasons ended.

Seasons Team Dates
25 Bath 1988–2012
3 Bedford 1990, 1999–2000
19 Bristol 1988–1993, 1996–1998, 2000–2003, 2006–2009
1 Coventry 1988
2 Exeter 2011–2012
25 Gloucester 1988–2012
24 Harlequins 1988–2005, 2007–2012
8 Leeds 2002–2006, 2008, 2010–2011
25 Leicester 1988–2012
2 Liverpool St Helens 1989, 1991
19 London Irish 1992–1994, 1997–2012
2 London Scottish 1993, 1999
4 Moseley 1988–1992
16 Newcastle 1994, 1998–2012
20 Northampton 1991–1995, 1997–2007, 2009–2012
5 Nottingham 1988–1992
10 Orrell 1988–1997
2 Richmond 1998–1999
4 Rosslyn Park 1989–1992
2 Rotherham 2001, 2004
2 Rugby 1992–1993
19 Sale 1988, 1995–2012
21 Saracens 1990–1993, 1996–2012
25 Wasps 1988–2012
2 Waterloo 1988–1989
5 West Hartlepool 1993, 1995–1997, 1999
7 Worcester 2005–2010, 2012

Media coverage

In Australia the Aviva Premiership is 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 known as 'The Rugby Club'. From the 2008/09 season there is a highlights show on ITV4, which is repeated midweek on ITV1. From the 2010–11 season Setanta Sports were due to show 46 live games per season, while Sky Sports were to show only 23. However, due to Setanta's administration and then closure in the UK, their televised rights were given back for re-tender. On 14 December 2009, it was announced that ESPN UK had acquired the rights to broadcast 43 live matches and one semi-final, with Sky still broadcasting the other semi-final and 26 regular matches. The deal begins with the 2010–11 season and will run until 2012–13.[5] The two broadcasters reached a deal to show 3 live games per matchday.

In the United States, the Aviva Premiership is currently available on Fox Soccer Plus.[6]

See also


External links

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