The RFU Championship (known for sponsorship reasons as the Greene King IPA Championship since 2013–14) is the second tier of the English rugby union league system and was founded in September 1987. The eleven-side league was known as National Division One and in 2009 changed from semi-professional clubs to fully professional. However, several clubs now operate a semi-professional model. The 2021 champions were Saracens, who won promotion back to Premiership Rugby after a single season in the Championship.
|Current season, competition or edition:|
2021–22 RFU Championship
|No. of teams||11|
|Saracens (3rd title) |
|Most titles||Bristol Bears (4 titles)|
|Level on pyramid||2|
|Promotion to||Premiership Rugby|
|Relegation to||National League 1[a]|
|Domestic cup(s)||Championship Cup|
|Official website||Championship Rugby|
On 10 November 2008 it was proposed by the Rugby Football Union that the second tier of the English rugby union system should be a fully professional twelve club Championship. The proposal was criticised by the then National League One chairman Geoff Irvine, representing the clubs, who described it as "financial suicide", although six League One clubs subsequently supported the proposal. The proposals required five clubs to be relegated to National Division Two, with only one club being promoted from that division and one club joining the league from the Premiership. On 15 November 2008 the RFU Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new proposal, which began in September 2009. Under the proposal the RFU paid £2.3 million a year to help fund the change, with future rises due through television rights.
Between 2009–10 and 2016–17 and again since the 2020–21 season the team that wins the Championship league is not automatically promoted to the Premiership, instead a play-off competition takes place to determine which team is promoted. For the first three seasons the top eight clubs had to enter the play-offs, between 2012–13 and 2016–17 they were between the top four clubs and since 2020–21 only the top two clubs compete. If the play-offs winner fall short of minimum standards criteria (in grounds etc.) for entry to the Premiership no promotion or relegation takes place between the two divisions. The RFU have clarified that they will not consider promoting lower-placed sides in the play-offs even if they finished top of the league phase (league table). The play-offs format has been criticised by the media, players and fans alike, resulting in its shortening to the top four clubs after the main part of the season and its abolition between the 2017-2018 and 2019–20 seasons.
Until 2013 a relegation play-off round took place between the four lowest placed clubs in the Championship.
Beginning with the 2009-10 season, the winner of the Championship league was automatically promoted to the Premiership. Instead, a play-off competition between the top eight clubs was held to determine the promoted club. The first, fourth, fifth and eighth placed clubs entered Group A; the second, third, sixth and seventh placed clubs entered Group B. Each side played the other sides in their division home-and-away. The two highest-placed sides in each division went through to a single-leg semi-final, and the semi-final winners played a two-legged final. The two legs of the final were played at the two competing clubs' home grounds, rather than at Twickenham.
In the event that the winner of the play-off competition did not meet the minimum standards criteria for entry to the Premiership, there was to be no promotion or relegation between the Championship and Premiership for that season. That did not apply in 2009–10, as the RFU announced before the second leg of the Championship final that both participants, Bristol and Exeter, met the criteria for promotion.
There was also a play-off between the four lowest placed clubs in the Championship to determine who was relegated to National League 1.
Criticism and changes for 2010–11Edit
The formats of both the promotion and relegation play-offs were criticised after that first season. In both phases, all teams began equal, regardless of their performance during the home-and-away season. Moseley, who had been in serious relegation danger after a poor start to the play-offs, were particularly angry about the format because they started the relegation phase equal to the other three teams involved; despite having won ten matches during the season to Birmingham's none. It was also felt that starting all teams equal in the promotion phase gave teams little incentive to win the regular season because there was no reward for a high finish within the top eight. As a result, the following changes were made to the promotion and relegation phases:
- In the promotion phase:
- The top two clubs at the end of the regular season started the play-off on 3 points.
- The third- and fourth-placed clubs started on 2 points.
- The fifth- and sixth-place clubs started on 1 point.
- The remaining two clubs started on 0 points.
- The semi-finals changed from one-off to two-legged matches.
- In the relegation phase, clubs carried over 1 point for each win in the regular season.
Further changes for 2012–13Edit
The play-off format had been developed to increase club revenues, as each club had been assured of at least two home fixtures after the home-and-away season. However, criticism remained, especially from the best performing clubs, as they had to navigate ten additional fixtures in order to earn promotion. Bristol had particular reason to feel aggrieved; in two seasons under the revamped format, they finished first in the table, but lost in the 2010 play-off final to Exeter and in the 2012 semi-finals to Cornish Pirates (in 2011, the final was contested between Worcester Warriors, who had won the league, and Cornish Pirates).
As a result, the RFU eliminated pool play for both promotion and relegation. Starting with the 2012–13 season and continuing through to 2016–17, the top four clubs at the end of the regular season entered promotion play-offs. The format is the same as the 2011 and 2012 knockout stages, with two-legged semi-finals followed by a two-legged final. This system is identical to that of the Premiership, except that it uses two-legged matches instead of the Premiership's one-off matches. Relegation play-offs were eliminated; the bottom side is now automatically relegated (also mirroring the Premiership). Bristol's chairman Chris Booy welcomed the changes, telling the BBC,
"We had a mad 10 minutes in Penzance and our whole (2011–12) season fell apart. We've got the system changed and I was one of the main lobbyists for that. I think it will prepare us better because we can manage our squad to be in peak condition for the semis' and the final. A number of teams will be fighting to get into the top four, whereas before they were resting (sic) to get into the top eight."
Further changes (2017–2020)Edit
Between the 2017–18 and 2019–20 seasons, the RFU eliminated the promotion play-offs. The club finishing atop the regular-season table was automatically promoted to the Premiership, provided said club met the minimum entry criteria. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the 2019–20 season to be prematurely ended. Final standings were based on a "best playing record formula" and promotion and relegation remained for the 1st and 12th placed clubs respectively.
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and changes to promotion and relegation (2020–)Edit
The 2020–21 season was impacted by the above mentioned pandemic and as a consequence a shorter season kicked off in spring 2021. The reduced season saw each team play each other once only with the top two teams entering a two-legged promotion playoff. There was no relegation due to cancellation of National League 1.
In February 2021 a moratorium on relegation from the Premiership into the Championship was approved and it was confirmed that the RFU were working on a review of the minimum standards criteria for promotion and the league structure from 2021–22. The moratorium was extended for a further two years in June 2021 and also includes promotion from the Championship at the end of the 2022–23 season. There will also be no relegation from the Championship in 2021–22.
Promotion into the Premiership will be reintroduced at the end of the 2023–24 season by means of a play-off between the top placed team in the Championship and the bottom placed side in the Premiership.
The RFU Championship clubs were in dispute with the RFU over funding for the competition and claimed that each club was owed £77,000 for the past three seasons, and will be owed a further £120,000 over the next four seasons. The clubs believed they should have received £295,000 in 2009–10, rising to £400,000 by 2015–16 and further believe there was a breach of contract on the part of the RFU. The RFU stated that the original funding was an estimate and by 2015–16 the figure will be £359,400. When the RFU announced the hiatus of promotion play-offs, it also announced funding increases from both itself and the Premiership, including a new system which ties some of the new funding to each Championship side's performance in the league season. The extra funding provided prior to 2016–17 was removed prior to the 2020–21 season.
On 26 June 2013, the RFU and Greene King Brewery announced the Championship's first-ever name sponsorship deal. The competition is officially be known as the Greene King IPA Championship from the 2013–14 season.
- There has been a moratorium on relegation since the 2020–21 season.
- Goldington Road's capacity down from 6,000 to 5,000.
|Club||Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Points for||Points against||Diff||Try bonus||Losing bonus||Points|
|Green background will be promoted to Premiership Rugby subject to minimum standards criteria.|
Updated: 22 October 2021
Source: "Greene King IPA Championship". England Rugby.
|Season||Champions||Finalists||No of matches||First stage winners||Runners-up||Relegated team|
|2009–10||Exeter Chiefs||Bristol||22||Bristol||Exeter Chiefs||Coventry|
|2010–11||Worcester Warriors||Cornish Pirates||22||Worcester Warriors||Bedford Blues||Birmingham & Solihull|
|2011–12||London Welsh||Cornish Pirates||22||Bristol||Bedford Blues||Esher|
|Green background are promotion places. Teams in bold are the winners of the first stage.|
|2012–13||22||Newcastle Falcons||49–33 (agg)||Bedford Blues||Doncaster Knights|
|2013–14||23||London Welsh||48–28 (agg)||Bristol||Ealing Trailfinders|
|2014–15||22||Worcester Warriors||59–58 (agg)||Bristol||Plymouth Albion|
|2015–16||22||Bristol||60–47 (agg)||Doncaster Knights||Moseley|
|2016–17||22||London Irish||84–66 (agg)||Yorkshire Carnegie||No relegation[a 6]|
|2017–18||22||Bristol||N/A||Ealing Trailfinders||Rotherham Titans|
|2018–19||22||London Irish||Ealing Trailfinders||Richmond|
|2019–20||15*||Newcastle Falcons||Ealing Trailfinders||Yorkshire Carnegie|
|2020–21||10**||Saracens||117–15 (agg)||Ealing Trailfinders||No relegation[a 7]|
|2021–22||No relegation[a 8]|
|Green background are promotion places. Teams in bold topped the table. |
* 2019-2020 Season ended early because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
** 2020–21 season started late due to the pandemic.
Summary of winners and runners-upEdit
|Teams||Champions||Years titles won||Runners-up||Years runners-up||Top of league standings||Number of promotions|
|Bristol||4||1999, 2005, 2016, 2018||3||2010, 2014, 2015||7||4|
|Newcastle Falcons||3||1993, 2013, 2020||1||1997||3||4|
|Northampton Saints||3||1990, 1996, 2008||3||3|
|Rotherham Titans||3||2000, 2002, 2003||2||1999, 2007||3||2|
|Yorkshire Carnegie||3||2001, 2007, 2009||2||2000, 2017||3||3|
|Worcester Warriors||3||2004, 2011, 2015||3||2001, 2002, 2003||2||3|
|London Irish||2||2017, 2019||2||1991, 1996||2||4|
|Saracens||3||1989, 1995, 2021||2||3|
|London Welsh||2||2012, 2014||0||2|
|Bedford Blues||1||1998||3||1989, 2006, 2013||1||2|
|Exeter Chiefs||1||2010||3||2005, 2008, 2009||0||1|
|Ealing Trailfinders||4||2018, 2019, 2020, 2021|
|West Hartlepool||3||1992, 1994, 1998||3|
|Cornish Pirates||2||2011, 2012|
|Liverpool St Helens||2||1988, 1990||2|
These are the 12 teams which made up the original league when league rugby began in 1987:
- Bedford Blues (still playing in the Greene King IPA Championship) (2nd tier)
- Blackheath (now playing in National League 1) (3rd tier)
- Gosforth (now the Newcastle Falcons, playing in Premiership Rugby) (1st tier)
- Headingley (now Leeds Tykes, playing in the National League 1) (3rd tier)
- Liverpool-St Helens (now playing in South Lancs/Cheshire 1) (7th tier)
- London Irish (now playing in the Premiership) (1st tier)
- London Scottish (still playing in the RFU Championship) (2nd tier)
- London Welsh (no longer extant, due to financial liquidation in the 2016–17 season, spiritually succeeded by London Welsh Amateur)
- Northampton (now playing in Premiership Rugby) (1st tier)
- Richmond (still playing in the RFU Championship) (2nd tier)
- Rosslyn Park (now playing in National League 1) (3rd tier)
- Saracens (now playing in Premiership Rugby) (1st tier)
Note that most records are from 1996–97 season onwards (aside from league champions, promotion and relegation data) as this is widely held as the dawn of professionalism across the English club game except in a few areas. It also offers a better comparison between seasons as the division team numbers are roughly equal (for example when league rugby union first started in 1987–88 the Courage League National Division Two had 12 teams playing 11 games each, compared to 12 teams in 1996–97 playing 24 games (home & away), going up to 16 teams in 2009–10 playing 30 games, back to 12 teams playing 24 games with additional playoff games). Attendance records are from 2000 onwards unless otherwise specified. All records are up to date up till the end of the 2017–18 season.
- Most titles: 4
- Most times promoted from division: 4
- Bristol (1998–99, 2004–05, 2015–16, 2017–18)
- London Irish (1990–91, 1995–96, 2016–17, 2018–19)
- Newcastle Falcons (1992–93, 1996–97, 2012–13, 2019–20)
- Most times relegated from division: 4
- Most league points in a season: 143
- Least league points in a season: −9
- Most points scored in a season: 1,321
- Least points scored in a season: 216
- Most points conceded in a season: 1,298
- Least points conceded in a season: 252
- Best points difference (For/Against): 978
- Worst points difference (For/Against): –898
- Most games won in a season: 30
- Most games lost in a season: 28
- Most games drawn in a season: 5
- Most bonus points in a season: 24
- Largest home win: 156 – 5
- Largest away win: 104 – 0
- Most points scored in a match: 156
- Most tries scored in a match: 24
- Most conversions scored in a match: 18
- Most penalties scored in a match: 9
- Manchester at home to Wakefield on 15 December 2001 (2001–02)
- Coventry at home to Otley on 13 November 2004 (2004–05)
- Most drop kicks scored in a match: 3
- Exeter Chiefs away to Rotherham on 10 November 2001 (2001–02)
- Exeter Chiefs away to Plymouth Albion on 8 September 2007 (2007–08)
- Cornish Pirates at home to Plymouth Albion on 12 April 2009 (2008–09)
- Worcester Warriors away to Bedford Blues on 16 October 2010 (2010–11)
- Leeds Carnegie at home to Rotherham Titans on 25 November 2011 (2011–12)
- Highest attendance: 16,048
- Lowest attendance: 150[a 11]
- Bracknell at home to Exeter Chiefs on 2 March 2002 (2001–02)
- Moseley at home to Rugby Lions on 23 March 2002 (2001–02)
- Highest average attendance (club): 11,494
- Lowest average attendance (club): 322
Championship top point scorersEdit
- As of the end of the games of 25 May 2016. Stats taken from 1996–97 season onwards and includes both regular league/play-off games the RFU Championship only (no cup games). Points scored includes tries, drop kicks, penalties and conversions.
|1||James Pritchard||2001–03, 2006–16
|3||Simon Binns||1996–98, 1999–01
Birmingham & Solihull
|6||Oliver Thomas||2002–03, 2006–07, 2008–09, 2010–15
(Bold denotes players still playing in the RFU Championship.)
Championship top try scorersEdit
- As of the end of the games of 25 May 2016. Stats taken from 1996–97 season onwards and includes both regular league/playoff games the RFU Championship only (no cup games).
|2||Richard Baxter||1997-10||Exeter Chiefs||105||315||0.3|
|5||James Pritchard||2001-03, 2006-16
|8||Richard Welding||1999-01, 2002-04
Birmingham & Solihull
(Bold denotes players still playing in the RFU Championship.)
Other player recordsEdit
- Most times top points scorer: 2
- Leigh Hinton for Orrell (2004-05, 2006-07)
- Gareth Steenson for Cornish Pirates (2007-08) and Exeter Chiefs (2009-10)
- Most times top try scorer: 2
- Most points in a season: 396
- Most tries in a season: 39
- Most points in a match: 42
- Most tries in a match: 6
- Most conversions in a match: 18
- Most penalties in a match: 9
- Marcus Barrow for Manchester at home to Wakefield on 15 December 2001 (2001-02)
- Matthew Leek for Coventry at home to Otley on 13 November 2004 (2004-05)
- Most drop kicks in a match: 3
- Chris Malone for Exeter Chiefs away to Rotherham on 10 November 2001 (2001-02)
- Danny Gray for Exeter Chiefs away to Plymouth Albion on 8 September 2007 (2007-08)
- Rhys Jones for Cornish Pirates at home to Plymouth Albion on 12 April 2009 (2008-09)
- Andy Goode for Exeter Chiefs away to Bristol on 26 May 2010 (2010-11)
- Joe Ford for Leeds Carnegie at home to Rotherham Titans on 25 November 2011 (2011-12)
- Due to the expansion of the Courage National Leagues for the following season there was no relegation from the 1989–90 Courage League National Division Two.
- Due to the expansion of the division from 10 to 12 teams for the following season there was no relegation from the 1995-96 Courage League National Division Two.
- 3rd place London Scottish were also promoted.
- Due to the expansion of the top two divisions for the following season there was no relegation from the 1997-98 Dunbar Premiership Two.
- Due to the RFU expanding the league from 14 to 16 teams for the following season there was no relegation from the 2005-06 National Division One.
- Due to London Welsh going into liquidation and being expelled from the league in January 2017 there was no relegation from the 2016-17 RFU Championship.
- Due to cancellation of the National Leagues in 2020–21 there will be no relegation from the 2020–21 RFU Championship.
- There will be no relegation from the 2021–22 RFU Championship.
- This figure is taken from the regular 2009–10 RFU Championship season and does not include the relegation group games. The minus figure came about because Pertemps Bees were deducted 15 points by the RFU for going into voluntary liquidation but were allowed to continue playing as they were granted a temporary licence. Without the points deduction the Bees would have got 6 points during the first stage of the season.
- Figure is for regular season only and does not include playoffs.
- Note that there is very little attendance data prior to the 2000-01 season so it is possible there could have been lower attendances than the ones listed.
- Note that there is very little attendance data prior to the 2000-01 season so it is possible there could have been lower average club attendances than the one listed. Also, Birmingham & Solihull were missing 2 attendance figures from this season which means their average is not 100% accurate and could be slightly lower or higher with these games accounted for.
- Note that there is very little attendance data prior to the 2000-01 season so it is possible that previous seasons had lower average attendances.
- "Greene King IPA to sponsor RFU Championship" (Press release). Rugby Football Union. 26 June 2013. Archived from the original on 1 July 2013. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
- "Championship plan gains support". BBC Sport. BBC. 14 November 2008. Retrieved 21 May 2009.
- Simon Mills (15 November 2008). "RFU Council approves major changes to shape of club game". Rugby Football Union. Retrieved 21 May 2009.
- Brian Dick (28 February 2010). "Moseley star Nathan Williams questions fairness of play–offs system". Sunday Mercury. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
- Brian Dick (25 February 2010). "Taxing times for clubs struggling in rugby's Championship". Birmingham Post. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
- RFU Championship building to gripping finale
- Taylor, John (18 August 2010). "What close season?". ESPNScrum. Retrieved 18 August 2010.
- "Championship: RFU to abolish play–off pool stages". BBC Sport. 17 May 2012. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
- "Play-off system removed from Greene King IPA Championship from next season" (Press release). Premiership Rugby Limited. 3 March 2017. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
- "RFU". www.englandrugby.com. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
- "Greene King IPA Championship Fixtures Confirmed". www.championshiprugby.co.uk. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
- "RFU Council Votes in Favour of No Relegation". www.englandrugby.com. Retrieved 16 February 2021.
- "RFU Council Vote in Favour of Covid Recovery Plan and Temporary Pause on Relegation". Premiership Rugby. Retrieved 29 June 2021.
- Straughan, Dick (5 July 2012). "Falcons relegated as Welsh win RFU promotion appleal". The Cornishman. p. 80.
- "Update on RFU Funding of Greene King IPA Championship". Rugby Football Union. Retrieved 11 February 2020.
- "Update on RFU Funding of Greene King IPA Championship". Rugby Football Union. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
- Tony Williams and Bill Mitchell, ed. (1990). Courage Official Rugby Union Club Directory 1990–91. Windsor: Burlington Publishing Co Ltd.
- Mick Cleary and John Griffiths, ed. (1996). Rothmans Rugby Union Yearbook 1996–97. London: Headline Book Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7472-7771-2.
- "Leagues 1997/98". Moseley Rugby Club. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
- "RFU council approves expansion of National League One". ESPN. 17 March 2006.
- "London Welsh: RFU refuses permission for Exiles to stay in Championship". BBC Sport. 24 January 2017.
- "RFU". www.championshiprugby.co.uk. Retrieved 8 February 2021.
- "RFU Council Votes in Favour of No Relegation". www.englandrugby.com. Retrieved 16 February 2021.
- "Birmingham & Solihull - Wednesday". rolling-maul.com. 28 October 2009.
- "RFU Championship All time leading top scorers". Rugby Statbunker. 26 February 2016.
- "RFU Championship All time try scorers". Rugby Statbunker. 26 February 2016.