English Premiership (rugby union)

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English Premiership
Country  England
Founded 1987
Number of teams 12
Level on pyramid 1
Relegation to RFU Championship
Domestic cup(s) Anglo-Welsh Cup
International cup(s) European Rugby Champions Cup
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Current champions Exeter
(2016-2017 English Premiership)
Most championships Leicester Tigers (10 Titles)
TV partners BT Sport
ITV4 (Highlights only)
Website premiershiprugby.com
2016-2017 English Premiership (rugby union)

The English Premiership, currently known as Aviva Premiership Rugby or more commonly the Aviva Premiership because of the league's sponsorship by Aviva,[1] is a professional league competition for men's rugby union football clubs in the top division of the English rugby union 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 Premiership qualify for Europe's two main club competitions, the European Rugby Champions Cup and the European Rugby Challenge Cup. The current champions are Saracens. The most recently promoted side is Worcester Warriors, who, after defeating Bristol in the 2015 RFU Championship Final, returned to the top flight after a one-year absence.


See also History of the English rugby union system

Beginnings: English domestic rugby union until 1972

The governing body of rugby union in England, the Rugby Football Union (RFU), long resisted leagues as it was believed that the introduction of leagues would increase 'dirty' play and put pressure on clubs to pay their players (thereby contravening 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.

1972-1995: Leagues and cups

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, and 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 continued until the 2013-14 season when BT Sport acquired the exclusive rights.[2]

1996: The dawn of professional rugby union

The league turned professional for the 1996/97 season when the first winners were 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.[3]

2000-2002: Premiership, Championship and playoffs

The start of the 2000–01 season brought with it a re-vamping of the season structure. In 2000–2001 an 8-team playoff (the Championship) was introduced. However, the team finishing top of the table at the end of the regular season was still considered English champions ("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.[4] There was an outcry from fans and this proposal was dropped.

2003-2014: The ascendancy of the playoffs

From the beginning of the 2002–03 season, a new playoff format was introduced to replace the 8-team 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 three 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, Sale Sharks in 2005–06 & Harlequins 2011–12.

Of all the Premiership teams, 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 formerly London club have not finished top of the league since the playoffs began. Conversely Gloucester 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 losing finals 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 Championship victory being considered secondary.

The 2011–12 season saw Harlequins add their name to the trophy on their first attempt, winning 30-23 against the nine times champions Leicester. With their first ever English Premiership title, they are only the sixth club to win the Premiership since its creation in 1997, the others being Newcastle Falcons, London Wasps, Leicester Tigers, Sale Sharks and Saracens.[5] Leicester's 10th championship would have to wait until 2012–13, defeating Northampton in the final.

The 2013-14 Aviva Premiership Season saw Northampton add their name to the trophy for the first time, becoming the 8th different team to do so. This was achieved by defeating Leicester Tigers in the Semi Final 21-20 and denying Leicester a 10th Consecutive Final.[6] In the final they defeated Saracens 20-24 with a try in the last minute of extra time to win the 2013-14 Aviva Premiership.[7][8]

2014-present: US initiatives

With the future of the Heineken Cup uncertain beyond 2013–14, due to a row between England's Premiership Rugby Limited and France's LNR on one side and the sport's governing bodies on the other, Premiership Rugby Limited has explored several moves toward expanding its brand into the United States. In May 2013, Premiership Rugby Limited and U.S.-based RugbyLaw entered into a plan by which the two organisations were to help back a proposed U.S. professional league that could have begun play as early as 2014.[9] The first phase of the plan was to involve two preseason exhibitions featuring an "American Barbarians" side that will combine international veterans and young American talent. The "Barbarians" were intended to play matches in August 2013 in the U.S. and London, but those plans fell through; the matches are now being planned for 2014.[10] In August 2013, Leicester Tigers chairman Peter Tom confirmed that Premiership Rugby Limited had discussed the possibility of bringing select Premiership matches to the US.[9][11]

The first match will be played in the USA on 12 March 2016 when London Irish host Saracens at the Red Bull Arena in the New York Metropolitan Area.[12]


Current clubs

English Premiership clubs
Club Established City Stadium Capacity* Titles (Last)
Bath 1865 Bath, Somerset The Recreation Ground 14,000 6 (1996)
Exeter Chiefs 1871 Exeter, Devon Sandy Park 12,600 1 (2017)
Gloucester 1873 Gloucester Kingsholm Stadium 16,500 0 (N/A)
Harlequins 1866 London Twickenham Stoop 14,800 1 (2012)
Leicester Tigers 1880 Leicester Welford Road 25,800 10 (2013)
London Irish 1898 Reading, Berkshire Madejski Stadium 24,000 0 (N/A)
Newcastle Falcons 1877 Newcastle, Tyneside Kingston Park 10,200 1 (1998)
Northampton Saints 1880 Northampton Franklin's Gardens 15,500 1 (2014)
Sale Sharks 1861 Eccles, Greater Manchester AJ Bell Stadium 12,000 1 (2006)
Saracens 1867 London Allianz Park 10,000 3 (2016)
Wasps 1867 Coventry Ricoh Arena 32,600 6 (2008)
Worcester Warriors 1871 Worcester Sixways Stadium 12,024 0 (N/A)
  • *capacity for Rugby Union games may differ from official stadium capacity.
  • *Gold - current Premiership Champions



Player Club(s) Years Appearances
1 England Steve Borthwick Bath/Saracens 1998–2014 265
2 England George Chuter Saracens/Leicester 1997–2014 262
3 England Tom May Newcastle/Northampton/London Welsh 1999–2015 247
4 England Hugh Vyvyan Newcastle/Saracens 1998–2012 245
5 England Simon Shaw Wasps 1997-2011 237
6 England Charlie Hodgson Sale Sharks/Saracens 2000– 236
7 England Duncan Bell Sale/Bath 1997–2012 230
8 England Andy Goode Leicester/Saracens/Worcester Warriors/Wasps/London Irish 1998– 229
9 England Alex Brown Bristol/Gloucester 1999–2012 227
10 England Phil Dowson Newcastle/Northampton/Worcester Warriors 2001– 225



Player Club Years Points
1. England Charlie Hodgson Sale/Saracens 2000- 2133
2. England Andy Goode Leicester/Saracens/Worcester/Wasps 1998- 1771
3. England Olly Barkley Bath/Gloucester 2001-2012 1588
4. Nick Evans Harlequins 2008- 1497
5 England Jonny Wilkinson Newcastle 1997-2008 1489
6 Ireland Barry Everitt London Irish/Northampton 2000-2010 1267
7 England Tim Stimpson Newcastle/Leicester/Leeds 1997-2005 1243
8 England Paul Grayson Northampton 1997-2005 1238
9 New Zealand Glen Jackson Saracens 2004-2010 1192
10 England Shane Drahm Bristol/Northampton/Worcester 2001-2008 1185
11 England Dave Walder Newcastle/Wasps 1999-2011 1037


Player Club Years Tries
1. England Mark Cueto Sale 2001-2015 86
2. England Steve Hanley Sale 1998-2007 75
3. England Tom Varndell Leicester/Wasps 2004- 73
4. England Paul Sackey Bedford/London Irish/Wasps/Harlequins 1999-2010 2013- 68
5. England Tom Voyce Bath/Wasps/Gloucester/London Welsh 2000- 66
6. England James Simpson-Daniel Gloucester 2000-2013 63
7. England Neil Back Leicester 1997-2005 59
8. England Ben Cohen Northampton/Sale 1997-2011 58
9. Ireland Geordan Murphy Leicester 1998-2013 57
10. England Josh Lewsey Bristol/Wasps 1997-2011 56


Regular Season

The Aviva Premiership Rugby season runs from September to May and comprises 22 rounds of matches, with each club playing each other home and away. The results of the matches contribute points to the league as follows:

  • 4 points are awarded for a win
  • 2 points are awarded for a draw
  • 0 points are awarded for a loss, however
    • 1 losing (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


Following the completion of the regular season, the top 4 teams enter the play-off, which is held throughout May. The top two teams receive home advantage, the league leaders hosting the 4th ranked team, and the 2nd place team hosting the 3rd place team. The winners of these semi-finals progress to the final, held at Twickenham Stadium. The winner of the final being Premiership Champions.


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, 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 2011–12 season when London Welsh won promotion from the Championship but were denied promotion, reprieving Newcastle Falcons from relegation, until London Welsh successfully appealed against their block.[14]

European competition qualification

The top six teams qualify for the next season's European Rugby Champions Cup whilst the team in seventh place advances to a playoff for another place. Teams that do not qualify for the Champions Cup play in the European Rugby Challenge Cup.


Between 1987-2002 the team at the top of the league was crowned English champions. For the 2000-2001 season a playoff was introduced as a separate competition and from 2002-03 the winner of the Premiership Final has been crowned champions. All Premiership Finals have taken place at Twickenham.

Season Premiership Final Information League Leaders Sponsor Name
Winners Score Runners-up
1987-88 - - - Leicester Tigers Courage Brewery Courage League
1988-89 - - - Bath
1989-90 - - - Wasps
1990-91 - - - Bath
1991-92 - - - Bath
1992-93 - - - Bath
1993-94 - - - Bath
1994-95 - - - Leicester Tigers
1995-96 - - - Bath
1996-97 - - - Wasps
1997-98 - - - Newcastle Falcons Allied Dunbar Allied Dunbar Premiership
1998-99 - - - Leicester Tigers
1999-00 - - - Leicester Tigers
2000-01 Leicester Tigers 22-10 Bath Leicester Tigers Zurich Zurich Premiership
2001-02 Gloucester 28-23 Bristol Leicester Tigers
2002-03 London Wasps 39-3 Gloucester Gloucester
2003–04 London Wasps 10-6 Bath Bath
2004–05 London Wasps 39-14 Leicester Tigers Leicester Tigers
2005–06 Sale Sharks 45-20 Leicester Tigers Sale Sharks Guinness Guinness Premiership
2006–07 Leicester Tigers 44-16 Gloucester Gloucester
2007–08 London Wasps 26-16 Leicester Tigers Gloucester
2008–09 Leicester Tigers 10-9 London Irish Leicester Tigers
2009–10 Leicester Tigers 33-27 Saracens Leicester Tigers
2010–11 Saracens 22-18 Leicester Tigers Leicester Tigers Aviva Aviva Premiership
2011–12 Harlequins 30-23 Leicester Tigers Harlequins
2012–13 Leicester Tigers 37-17 Northampton Saints Saracens
2013–14 Northampton Saints 24-20 (a.e.t) Saracens Saracens
2014–15 Saracens 28-16 Bath Northampton Saints


Team Wins Winning Years
1 Leicester Tigers 10 1987–88, 1994–95, 1998–99, 1999–00, 2000–01, 2001–02, 2006–07, 2008–09, 2009–10, 2012–13
2 Bath 6 1988–89, 1990–91, 1991–92, 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96
3 Wasps 6 1989–90, 1996–97, 2002–03, 2003–04, 2004–05, 2007–08
4 Saracens 2 2010–11, 2014–15
5 Newcastle Falcons 1 1997–98
6 Sale Sharks 1 2005–06
7 Harlequins 1 2011–12
8 Northampton Saints 1 2013–14

Gloucester League Winners - 3


Salary Cap

The English Premiership operates a salary cap, set by the Premiership Rugby Board, specifying the money a club can spend on the player salaries of its squad per season. In the 2014–15 season, the base salary cap is £4.76m, with an "academy credit" of up to £240,000 (£30,000 per player for up to eight players). Players must meet the following criteria for their clubs to use the academy credit:

  • Joined the club before his 18th birthday.
  • Under age 24 at the start of the season.
  • Earns a salary of more than £30,000.

This means that, for example, a qualifying player who earns £40,000 carries a cap charge of only £10,000.

One player may be excluded from the cap calculations; this player must have met at least one of the following three criteria:

  • Played with his club for at least two full seasons before he was nominated as an excluded player.
  • Played outside the Premiership in the season before he was nominated.
  • Was selected and included in the official squad of any national team participating in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final tournament.

Several significant changes to the cap system will take effect with the 2015–16 season:[15]

  • The base cap will increase to £5.1 million.
  • The maximum possible amount of academy credits will increase to £400,000 per club. At the time of announcement, details of the new academy credit scheme were not released—specifically, the per-player amount and concurrent cap on the number of credits available.
  • Clubs will be allowed to exclude two players from the cap calculations instead of one. Unlike the first slot, which can be used for a player on a team's current roster, the new slot can only be filled by a player who had not been in the Premiership in the 12 months preceding the start of his contract.

Media coverage

In the United Kingdom, the rights are currently held by BT Sport under an £125m deal signed on 12 September 2012 to broadcast 69 live matches per season for three years from the 2013–14 season.[16] In Australia the Aviva Premiership is available on Setanta Sports. Since the 2008/09 season there has been a highlights show on ITV4, repeated midweek on ITV. In the United States, the Aviva Premiership is currently available on Fox Soccer Plus.[17]

See also


  1. Premiership Rugby announce long term partnership with Aviva Premiership Rugby, 7 July 2010
  2. "Partners | Sky Sports". Premiership Rugby. 28 June 2012. Retrieved 31 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Club History". London Scottish FC. 13 April 2013. Retrieved 31 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Leicester livid as seasons spoils are left up for grabs". The Independent. 10 February 2001. Retrieved 28 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "History". Premiership Rugby. Retrieved 31 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Premiership semi-final: Northampton 21-20 Leicester". www.bbc.co.uk. 16 May 2014. Retrieved 4 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Premiership final: Saracens 20-24 Northampton Saints". www.bbc.co.uk. 31 May 2014. Retrieved 2 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Aviva Premiership Final: Saracens 20 Northampton Saints 24". www.premiershiprugby.com. 31 May 2014. Retrieved 2 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 Dart, Tom (11 May 2013). "NFL joins plan aiming to create professional rugby union league in US". theguardian.com. Retrieved 4 August 2013. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Dart, Tom (5 June 2013). "US professional rugby union project delayed to 2014". theguardian.com. Retrieved 4 August 2013. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "America to host Aviva Premiership matches?". ESPN Scrum. 4 August 2013. Retrieved 4 August 2013. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. BBC Sport, http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-union/34647359
  13. "Lancaster must use his 'mongrel' Clarke". The RugbyPaper (359). 2 August 2015. p. 9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Mairs, Gavin (29 June 2012). "London Welsh to join Aviva Premiership after winning appeal against decision to deny them promotion". The Telegraph. Retrieved 31 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Salary Cap changes confirmed" (Press release). Premiership Rugby Limited. 16 September 2014. Retrieved 16 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. [1] Guardian Media, 12 September 2012
  17. "Fox Soccer Plus Set to Launch March 1 with DirecTV, DISH Network, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon FIOS" (PDF) (Press release). Fox Cable Networks. 26 February 2010. Retrieved 7 April 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links