| Current season or competition:
2012–13 RFU Championship
|Number of teams||12|
|Holders||London Welsh (2011–12)|
The RFU Championship 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 a two–legged play–off against the Cornish Pirates and a legal battle against the RFU, after an announcement that there would be no promotion to the Aviva Premiership the following season. After a successful appeal by the club on 29 June 2012 it was ruled “....that the criteria were in breach of EU and UK competition laws”.
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. 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 will pay £2.3 million a year to help fund the change, with future rises due through television rights. 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.
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.
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–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).
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,
"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."
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.
List of champions
|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||22||Newcastle Falcons||Nottingham||Doncaster Knights|
|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|
|Leeds 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|
|Exeter Chiefs||1||2010||3||2005, 2008, 2009||0||1|
|Bedford Blues||1||1998||2||1989, 2006||1||2|
|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|
These are the twelve teams which made up the original league when league rugby began in 1987:
- Bedford (still playing in the RFU Championship)
- Blackheath F.C. (now playing in National League 1)
- Gosforth (now the Newcastle Falcons, playing in the RFU Championship)
- Headingley (now Leeds Carnegie, playing in the RFU Championship)
- Liverpool-St Helens (now playing in North 1 West)
- London Irish (now in the Premiership)
- London Scottish (still playing in the RFU Championship)
- London Welsh (now playing in the Premiership)
- Northampton (now playing in the Premiership)
- Richmond (now playing in National League 1)
- Rosslyn Park (now playing in National League 1)
- Saracens (now playing in the Premiership)
|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||
|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||TBD||Doncaster Knights|
|2013–14||RFU Championship||12||London Welsh||Ealing Trailfinders||TBD||TBD|
- Summary of the Current League positions for English National Leagues
- List of English rugby union teams
- Rugby union in England
- English rugby union system
- "London Welsh win Premiership promotion, Newcastle relegated". BBC. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
- "Championship plan gains support". BBC Sport (BBC). 2008-11-14. Retrieved 2009-05-21.
- Simon Mills (2008-11-15). "RFU Council approves major changes to shape of club game". Rugby Football Union. Retrieved 2009-05-21.
- Brian Dick (2010-02-28). "Moseley star Nathan Williams questions fairness of play–offs system". Sunday Mercury. Retrieved 2010-03-03.
- Brian Dick (2010-02-25). "Taxing times for clubs struggling in rugby's Championship". Birmingham Post. Retrieved 2010-03-03.
- Taylor, John (2010-08-18). "What close season?". ESPNScrum. Retrieved 2010-08-18.
- "Championship: RFU to abolish play–off pool stages". BBC Sport. 2012-05-17. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
- Straughan, Dick (5 July 2012). "Falcons relegated as Welsh win RFU promotion appleal". The Cornishman. p. 80.