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RFU Championship

Greene King IPA Championship
Current season or competition:
2014–15 RFU Championship
Sport Rugby union
Instituted 1987 (1987)
Number of teams 12
Country  England
Holders London Welsh (2013–14)

The RFU Championship, known for sponsorship reasons as the Greene King IPA Championship from 2013–14,[1] is the second tier of the English rugby union league system and was founded in September 1987. The league was previously known as National Division One and in 2009 changed from a league consisting of semi–professional clubs to one that is now fully professional. The current champions are London Welsh, who won promotion to the English Premiership after beating the Bristol Rugby in a two legged play–off having finished second in the league of the regular season


  • History 1
  • 2009–10 season 2
    • Format 2.1
  • Criticism and changes for 2010–11 3
  • Further changes for 2012–13 4
    • Competition funding 4.1
  • 2014–15 teams 5
  • List of champions 6
    • National One 6.1
    • RFU Championship 6.2
  • Summary of winners and runners–up 7
  • Original teams 8
  • League results 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


See also History of the English rugby union system

On the 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.[2] On 15 November 2008 the RFU Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new proposal, which began in September 2009.[3] Under the proposal the RFU will pay £2.3 million a year to help fund the change, with future rises due through television rights.[2] For the 2009–10 season and beyond, the team which wins the Championship league will not be automatically promoted to the Premiership, there will be a play–off competition between the top eight clubs to decide which team is promoted. In the event that the winner of the play–off competition does not meet the minimum standards criteria for entry to the Premiership, there will be no promotion or relegation between the two divisions for that season. There is the possibility that neither team in the play–off final meet the minimum standards criteria, in which case the game would be meaningless in terms of promotion or relegation. The RFU have clarified that they will not consider promoting lower–placed sides, even if they finished top of the league phase of the competition. The play–off format of the Championship has been heavily criticised by the media, players and fans alike.[4][5]

2009–10 season

The 2009–10 Championship season was the first in which the league was fully professional.


The winner of the Championship league was not 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 Playoff Group A; the second, third, sixth and seventh placed clubs entered Playoff 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 does not meet the minimum standards criteria for entry to the Premiership, there will be no promotion or relegation between the Championship and Premiership for that season. This 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 2010–11

The formats of both the promotion and relegation play–offs were criticised after the 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.[6]

As a result, the following changes were made to the promotion and relegation phases:[6]

  • 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–place clubs started on 2.
    • The fifth– and sixth–place clubs started on 1.
    • The remaining two clubs started on 0.
    • Also, 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 2012–13

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 atop 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 won the league and Cornish Pirates).[7]

As a result, the RFU eliminated pool play for both promotion and relegation. Starting with the 2012–13 season, the top four clubs at the end of the regular season will enter promotion play–offs. The format will be 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 will be eliminated—the bottom side will now be automatically relegated (also mirroring the Premiership). Bristol's chairman Chris Booy welcomed the changes, telling the BBC,[7]
"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 where as before they were resting to get in to the top eight."

Competition funding

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 receive £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.[8]

On 26 June 2013, the RFU and Greene King Brewery announced the Championship's first-ever name sponsorship deal. The competition will officially be known as the Greene King IPA Championship through to 2016–17.[1]

2014–15 teams

Club Stadium Capacity Area
Bedford Blues Goldington Road 7,000 Bedford, Bedfordshire
Bristol Ashton Gate 21,497 Bristol
Cornish Pirates Mennaye Field 3,500 Penzance
Doncaster Knights Castle Park 5,000 Doncaster
Jersey St. Peter 5,000 Saint Peter, Jersey
London Scottish Athletic Ground, Richmond 4,500 London
Moseley Billesley Common 3,000+ Birmingham
Nottingham Meadow Lane 19,588 Nottingham
Plymouth Albion The Brickfields 8,500 Plymouth
Rotherham Titans Clifton Lane 2,500 Rotherham
Worcester Warriors Sixways Stadium 12,024 Worcester
Yorkshire Carnegie Headingley Carnegie Stadium 20,250 Headingley, Leeds

List of champions

National One

List of National One Winners
Season Matches Champions Runners–up Relegated Teams
1987–88 11 Rosslyn Park Liverpool St Helens none
1988–89 11 Saracens Bedford London Scottish and London Welsh
1989–90 11 Northampton Liverpool St Helens none
1990–91 12 Rugby London Irish Richmond and Headingley
1991–92 12 London Scottish West Hartlepool Plymouth Albion and Liverpool St Helens
1992–93 12 Newcastle Gosforth Waterloo Bedford, Rosslyn Park, Richmond, Blackheath, Coventry, Fylde and Morley
1993–94 18 Sale West Hartlepool Rugby and Otley
1994–95 18 Saracens Wakefield Fylde and Coventry
1995–96 18 Northampton London Irish none
1996–97 22 Richmond Newcastle Rugby Lions and Nottingham
1997–98 22 Bedford West Hartlepool London Scottish also promoted; no relegation
1998–99 26 Bristol Rotherham Blackheath and Fylde
1999–00 26 Rotherham Leeds Tykes Rugby and West Hartlepool
2000–01 26 Leeds Tykes Worcester Orrell and Waterloo
2001–02 26 Rotherham Worcester Henley and Bracknell
2002–03 26 Rotherham Worcester Moseley and Rugby
2003–04 26 Worcester Orrell Wakefield and Manchester
2004–05 26 Bristol Exeter Orrell and Henley
2005–06 26 Harlequins Bedford Blues none
2006–07 30 Leeds Tykes Earth Titans Otley and Waterloo
2007–08 30 Northampton Saints Exeter Chiefs Pertemp Bees and Launceston
2008–09 30 Leeds Tykes Exeter Chiefs Esher, Sedgley Park, Newbury, Otley, Manchester
Green background are promotion places.

RFU Championship

List of RFU Championship Winners (Champions decided by a play–off)
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
2012–13 Newcastle Falcons Bedford Blues 22 Newcastle Falcons Nottingham Doncaster Knights
2013–14 London Welsh Bristol 23 Bristol London Welsh Ealing Trailfinders
Green background are promotion places. Teams in bold are the winners of the 22 match first stage.

Summary of winners and runners–up

Team Champions Years titles won Runners-up Years runners–up Top of league standings Number of promotions
Rotherham Titans 3 2000, 2002, 2003 2 1999, 2007 3 2
Yorkshire Carnegie 3 2001, 2007, 2009 1 2000 3 3
Northampton Saints 3 1990, 1996, 2008 3 3
Worcester Warriors 2 2004, 2011 3 2001, 2002, 2003 2 2
Bristol 2 1999, 2005 2 2010, 2012 5 2
Saracens 2 1989, 1995 2 2
Newcastle Falcons 2 1993, 2013 1 1997 2 3
London Welsh 2 2012, 2014 2
Exeter Chiefs 1 2010 3 2005, 2008, 2009 0 1
Bedford Blues 1 1998 3 1989, 2006, 2013 1 2
Rosslyn Park 1 1988 1 1
Rugby Lions 1 1991 1 1
London Scottish 1 1992 1 2
Sale Sharks 1 1994 1 1
Richmond 1 1997 1 1
Harlequins 1 2006 1 1
West Hartlepool 3 1992, 1994, 1998 3
Liverpool St Helens 2 1988, 1990 2
London Irish 2 1991, 1996 2
Cornish Pirates 2 2011, 2012
Waterloo 1 1993
Wakefield 1 1994 1
Orrell 1 2004

Original teams

These are the twelve teams which made up the original league when league rugby began in 1987:

League results

League Information Start of Season End of Season
Season Name Teams Relegated to League Promoted to League Promoted from League Relegated from League
1996–97 Courage Championship Division One 12 None
1997–98 Allied Dunbar Premiership Two 12 None
1998–99 Allied Dunbar Premiership Two 14 Bristol Bristol
1999–00 Allied Dunbar Premership Two 14 West Hartlepool Rotherham
2000–01 National Division One 14 Bedford Blues Leeds Tykes
2001–02 National Division One 14 Rotherham Titans None
2002–03 National Division One 14 None Rotherham Titans
2003–04 National Division One 14 Bristol Shoguns Worcester Warriors Manchester
2004–05 National Division One 14 Rotherham Titans Bristol
2005–06 National Division One 14 Harlequins Harlequins None
2006–07 National Division One 16 Leeds Tykes Leeds Tykes
2007–08 National Division One 16 Northampton Saints Northampton Saints
2008–09 National Division One 16 Leeds Carnegie Leeds Carnegie
2009–10 RFU Championship 12 Bristol Birmingham and Solihull Exeter Chiefs Coventry
2010–11 RFU Championship 12 Worcester Warriors Esher Worcester Warriors Birmingham and Solihull
2011–12 RFU Championship 12 Leeds Carnegie London Scottish London Welsh Esher
2012–13 RFU Championship 12 Newcastle Falcons Jersey Newcastle Falcons Doncaster Knights
2013–14 Greene King IPA Championship 12 London Welsh Ealing Trailfinders London Welsh Ealing Trailfinders

See also


  1. ^ a b "Greene King IPA to sponsor RFU Championship" (Press release). Rugby Football Union. 26 June 2013. Retrieved 27 June 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Championship plan gains support".  
  3. ^ Simon Mills (2008-11-15). "RFU Council approves major changes to shape of club game".  
  4. ^ Brian Dick (2010-02-28). "Moseley star Nathan Williams questions fairness of play–offs system". Sunday Mercury. Retrieved 2010-03-03. 
  5. ^ Brian Dick (2010-02-25). "Taxing times for clubs struggling in rugby's Championship". Birmingham Post. Retrieved 2010-03-03. 
  6. ^ a b Taylor, John (2010-08-18). "What close season?". ESPNScrum. Retrieved 2010-08-18. 
  7. ^ a b "Championship: RFU to abolish play–off pool stages". BBC Sport. 2012-05-17. Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  8. ^ Straughan, Dick (5 July 2012). "Falcons relegated as Welsh win RFU promotion appleal". The Cornishman. p. 80. 

External links

  • Unofficial National League 1 Messageboard
  • Division 1 (2008/2009) on
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