- Guinness Premiership
Infobox sports league
current_season=2008-09 Guinness Premiership
caption=The Guinness Premiership logo
The English Premiership (known as the Guinness Premiership because of the league's sponsorship by
Guinness) is a professional league competition for rugby unionfootball 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 Onecompetition. Clubs competing in the Guinness Premiership qualify for Europe's two club competitions, the Heineken Cupand the European Challenge Cup. The current champions are the London Wasps.
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 now known as the
EDF Energy Cupfollowed 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.
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 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 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 Championshipat 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.
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
Sale Sharksin 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 Waspshave 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.
Gloucester Rugbyhave 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.
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 point will be awarded to a team that loses a match by 7 points or less
*1 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 Stadium. The winner of the final are the season champions.
Promotion and relegation
English rugby union systemThere is a system of promotion and relegationto and from the Guinness Premiership. The last placed club after the 22 regular season rounds of the Premiership is relegated into National Division One, while the Division One champion is promoted to the Premiership for the subsequent season. However, promotion and relegation is subject to a Minimum Standards Criteria.
Teams playing in the Guinness Premiership also compete in the two
European Rugby Cupcompetitions: 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. If the winner of the Heineken Cup, European Challenge Cup or EDF Energy Cup is in the top four Guinness Premiership clubs, then the Heineken Cup runner-up would qualify (if an English club), followed by standings after fourth in the Premiership. Seven clubs will compete in the Heineken Cup if an English club advances further than any other French or Italian club. Clubs that do not qualify for the Heineken Cup play in the European Challenge Cup.
1987–88 to 1996–97
*Allied Dunbar Premiership:
1997–98 to 1999– 2000
2000–01 to 2004–05
2005–06 to present
* 1988–89 Bath
* 1990–91 Bath
* 1991–92 Bath
* 1992–93 Bath
* 1993–94 Bath
* 1995–96 Bath
* 1996–97 Wasps RFC
Allied Dunbar Premiership
**Leicester also finished 1st in the league table.
Leicester Tigersfinished 1st in the league table. Uniquely in this year, the leading team in the league, Leicester, were considered the English champions, rather than the playoff victorious Gloucester.
**Gloucester finished 1st in the league table. Wasps became the first team to be crowned English champions through the playoffs.
**Bath finished 1st in the league table.
Leicester Tigersfinished 1st in the league table.
Sale Sharksfinished 1st in the league table.
**Gloucester finished 1st in the league table.
**Gloucester finished 1st in the league table.
Zurich Premiership Championship Final
on all occasions at
Twickenham Stadium * 13 May 2001 Leicester 22-10 Bath (33,500) * 8 June 2002 Gloucester 28-23 Bristol (28,500) * 31 May 2003 London Wasps 39-3 Gloucester (42,000) * 29 May 2004 London Wasps 10-6 Bath (59,500) * 14 May 2005 London Wasps 39-14 Leicester Tigers (66,000)
Guinness Premiership Championship Final
on all occasions at
Twickenham Stadium * 27 May 2006 Sale Sharks 45-20 Leicester Tigers (58,000) * 12 May 2007 Leicester Tigers 44-16 Gloucester RFC (59,000) * 31 May 2008 London Wasps 26-16 Leicester Tigers (81,600)
By Championship Wins
In Australia the
Guinness Premiershipis 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.
* Summary of the Current League positions for all English Leagues
Guinness A League
List of English rugby union teams
European Challenge Cup
National Division One
EDF Energy Cup
List of attendance figures at domestic professional sports leagues— the Premiership in a worldwide context
* [http://www.guinnesspremiership.com/ Official site]
* [http://www.gprugby.com/ Guinness Premiership Rugby]
* [http://www.primerugby.com/guinnesspremiership/ Guinness Premiership at Prime Rugby]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/english/default.stm English rugby union news from the BBC]
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