RFU Championship

The RFU Championship is an English rugby union competition comprising twelve clubs. It is the second level of men’s English rugby and is played by both professional and semi-professional players.[1][2] The competition has existed since 1987, when English clubs were first organised into leagues.[3]

Championship Rugby
Current season, competition or edition:
2022–23 RFU Championship
SportRugby union
Founded1987 (1987)
No. of teams12
Countries England
Most recent
Ealing Trailfinders (1st title)
Most titlesBristol Bears (4 titles)
Level on pyramidLevel 2
Promotion toPremiership Rugby
Relegation toNational League 1
Domestic cup(s)Championship Cup
Official websiteChampionship Rugby

Organisation and format

The Championship is governed by the Rugby Football Union (RFU).[4] The current competition format is a double round-robin tournament, where teams play each other home and away. The 2021-22 season had no playoff phase, and no team was promoted to the Premiership as no team met the minimum standards criteria.[5]

Current teams

Locations of the 2022–23 RFU Championship teams
Locations of the 2022–23 RFU Championship teams in London
Club Stadium Capacity Area
Ampthill Dillingham Park 3,000 Ampthill, Bedfordshire
Bedford Blues Goldington Road 5,000 (1,700 seats) Bedford, Bedfordshire
CaldyPaton Field4,000Thurstaston, Wirral, Merseyside
Cornish Pirates Mennaye Field 4,000 (2,200 Seats) Penzance, Cornwall
Coventry Butts Park Arena 4,000 (3,000 seats) Coventry, West Midlands
Doncaster Knights Castle Park 5,000 (1,650 seats) Doncaster, South Yorkshire
Ealing Trailfinders Trailfinders Sports Ground 4,000 (2,200 Seats) West Ealing, London
Hartpury University Alpas Arena 2,000 Hartpury, Gloucestershire
Jersey Reds Stade Santander International 4,000 (200 Seats) Saint Peter, Jersey
London Scottish Athletic Ground 4,500 (1,000 seats) Richmond, London
Nottingham Lady Bay Sports Ground 3,500 Nottingham, Nottinghamshire
Richmond Athletic Ground 4,500 (1,000 seats) Richmond, London

Current league table

2022–23 RFU Championship Table
Club Played Won Drawn Lost Points for Points against Points diff Try bonus Losing bonus Points
1Ealing Trailfinders14120254724829912262
2Jersey Reds14121144127416711061
4Bedford Blues148064494133610143
5Doncaster Knights14806367327406139
8Cornish Pirates14608275312−372228
12London Scottish141013241482−2413310
  • If teams are level at any stage, tiebreakers are applied in the following order:
  1. Number of matches won
  2. Difference between points for and against
  3. Total number of points for
  4. Aggregate number of points scored in matches between tied teams
  5. Number of matches won excluding the first match, then the second and so on until the tie is settled
Green background Championship winners will be promoted to the Premiership, subject to minimum standards criteria.
Red background will be relegated.
Updated: 30 January 2023
Source: "The Championship". England Rugby.


Precursor competitions (1987–2009)

The governing body for rugby union in England, the RFU, first allowed league hierarchies in 1987. This came nearly a century after leagues were first established in football and cricket, England's other two principal team sports.[6][7]

The RFU's reluctance to allow leagues was based on a perceived threat to the sport's amateurism regulations: competitive leagues were seen as making clubs more likely to use incentives to attract and retain the best players.[8]

When formalised leagues were finally permitted in the 1987-88 season, the second level was known as 'Courage League National Division Two'. The league has since had several different names before becoming the RFU Championship in the 2009-10 season.

Name of second level competition First season Last season
Courage League National Division Two 1987–88 1996–97
Allied Dunbar Premiership Two 1997–98 1999–2000
National Division One 2000–01 2008–09

Origins (2008)

In November 2008, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) published a plan for a new professional tier below the Premiership. The 12-team Championship replaced the 16-team National Division One.

Level of men’s rugby Name of competition in 2008–09 Name of competition in 2009–10 Number of teams in 2008–09 Number of teams in 2009–10
Level 1 Guinness Premiership Guinness Premiership 12 12
Level 2 National Division One RFU Championship 16 12
Level 3 National Division 2 National League 1 14 16

To enable Level 2 to transition from 16 teams to 12, the RFU proposal called for five teams to be relegated at the end of the 2008–09 season. The relegated teams would play in the third level of rugby, known as ‘National Division 2’ in 2008–09 and to be known as ‘National League 1’ in 2009–10.

Additionally, one team would be relegated from the Premiership (Level 1 to Level 2), one team would be promoted to the Premiership (Level 2 to Level 1), and one team would be promoted from National Division 2 (Level 3 to Level 2).

The RFU Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new proposal, and the first Championship season started the following year, in 2009.

Promotion to the Premiership

Automatic promotion to the Premiership has not been a consistent feature of the RFU Championship. A playoff tournament was used to decide promotion between the 2009–10 and 2016–17 seasons, as well as in the 2020–21 season.

In seasons without a promotion playoff (2017–18, 2018–19, 2019–20), the team at the top of the league was automatically promoted to the Premiership.[9]

Season Number of playoff teams
2009–10 8
2012–13 4
2017–18 No play-offs
2020–21 2

The RFU plans to reintroduce possible promotion 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.[10]


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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13] The moratorium was extended for a further two years in June 2021 and also could include promotion from the Championship at the end of the 2022–23 season if there was promotion in the previous season. There was also no relegation from the Championship in 2021–22.

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 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.[14] 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.[9] The extra funding provided prior to 2016–17 was removed prior to the 2020–21 season.[15][16]


For sponsorship reasons, the competition was officially known as the Greene King IPA Championship between the 2013–14 and 2020–21 seasons.[17]

Historic results

Courage League National Division Two (1987–1997)


Season Matches Champions Runners–up Relegated teams
1987–8811Rosslyn ParkLiverpool St HelensNo relegation
1988–8911SaracensBedfordLondon Scottish and London Welsh
1989–9011NorthamptonLiverpool St HelensNo relegation[a 1]
Green background are promotion places.


Season Matches Champions Runners–up Relegated teams
1990–9112RugbyLondon IrishRichmond and Headingley
1991–9212London ScottishWest HartlepoolPlymouth Albion, Liverpool St Helens
1992–9312Newcastle GosforthWaterlooBedford, Rosslyn Park, Richmond, Blackheath, Coventry, Fylde, Morley
1993–9418SaleWest HartlepoolRugby, Otley
1994–9518SaracensWakefieldFylde, Coventry
1995–9618NorthamptonLondon IrishNo relegation[a 2]
1996–9722RichmondNewcastleRugby, Nottingham
Green background are promotion places.

Allied Dunbar Premiership Two (1997–2000)


Season Matches Champions Runners–up Relegated teams
1997–9822BedfordWest Hartlepool[a 3]No relegation[a 4]
1998–9926BristolRotherhamBlackheath and Fylde
1999–0026RotherhamLeeds TykesRugby and West Hartlepool
Green background are promotion places.

National Division One (2000–2009)


Season Matches Champions Runners–up Relegated teams
2000–0126Leeds TykesWorcesterOrrell and Waterloo
2001–0226RotherhamWorcesterHenley and Bracknell
2002–0326RotherhamWorcesterMoseley, Rugby Lions
2003–0426WorcesterOrrellWakefield, Manchester
2004–0526BristolExeterOrrell, Henley
2005–0626HarlequinsBedford BluesNo relegation[a 5]
2006–0730Leeds TykesEarth TitansOtley, Waterloo
2007–0830Northampton SaintsExeter ChiefsPertemp Bees, Launceston
2008–0930Leeds TykesExeter ChiefsEsher, Sedgley Park, Newbury, Otley, Manchester
Green background are promotion places.

RFU Championship (2009–)


Season Matches Champions Runners–up Relegated teams
2009–10 22 Exeter Chiefs Bristol Coventry
Green background are promotion places.


Season Matches Champions Runners–up Relegated teams
2010–11 22 Worcester Warriors Bedford Blues Doncaster Knights
2011–12 22 London Welsh Bristol Ealing Trailfinders
2012–13 22 Newcastle Falcons Bristol Plymouth Albion
2013–14 23 London Welsh Doncaster Knights Moseley
2014–15 22 Worcester Warriors Yorkshire Carnegie No relegation
2015–16 22 Bristol Ealing Trailfinders Rotherham Titans
2016–17 22 London Irish Ealing Trailfinders Richmond
2017–18 22 Bristol Ealing Trailfinders Yorkshire Carnegie
2018–19 22 London Irish Ealing Trailfinders No relegation
2019–20 15* Newcastle Falcons Ealing Trailfinders No relegation
Green background are promotion places.
* 2019–2020 season ended early because of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Season Matches Champions Runners–up Relegated teams
2020–21 10** Saracens Ealing Trailfinders No relegation
2021–22 20 Ealing Trailfinders Doncaster Knights No relegation
Green background are promotion places.
**2020–21 season started late due to the pandemic.

See also


  1. 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.[18]
  2. 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.[19]
  3. 3rd place London Scottish were also promoted.
  4. Due to the expansion of the top two divisions for the following season there was no relegation from the 1997-98 Dunbar Premiership Two.[20]
  5. 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.[21]


    1. "What next for rugby's Championship?". BBC Sport.
    2. "RFU cuts turn London Scottish semi-pro but Championship could become development league | SWLondoner". 2 April 2020.
    3. Williams, Peter (2012). "Any given Saturday: Competitive balance in elite English rugby union". Managing Leisure. 17 (2–3): 88–105. doi:10.1080/13606719.2012.674388. S2CID 154035466.
    4. "Regulation 2013" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 April 2020.
    5. "RFU".
    6. Williams, P. J. (2000). Professionalism and Change in English Rugby Union: An Inside View - ProQuest. University of Manchester. Retrieved 22 November 2021.
    7. "Annual Meeting of County Secretaries – the programme for 1890". Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game. ACS. 1889. pp. 478–479. Archived from the original on 8 September 2017. Retrieved 3 July 2017.
    8. Williams, P. (December 2002). "Battle Lines on Three Fronts: The RFU and the Lost War Against Professionalism". The International Journal of the History of Sport. 19 (4): 114–136. doi:10.1080/714001793. S2CID 145705183. Retrieved 22 November 2021.
    9. "Play-off system removed from Greene King IPA Championship from next season" (Press release). Premiership Rugby Limited. 3 March 2017. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
    10. "RFU Council Vote in Favour of Covid Recovery Plan and Temporary Pause on Relegation". Premiership Rugby. Retrieved 29 June 2021.
    11. "RFU". www.englandrugby.com. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
    12. "Greene King IPA Championship Fixtures Confirmed". www.championshiprugby.co.uk. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
    13. "RFU Council Votes in Favour of No Relegation". www.englandrugby.com. Retrieved 16 February 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
    14. Straughan, Dick (5 July 2012). "Falcons relegated as Welsh win RFU promotion appleal". The Cornishman. p. 80.
    15. "Update on RFU Funding of Greene King IPA Championship". Rugby Football Union. Retrieved 11 February 2020.
    16. "Update on RFU Funding of Greene King IPA Championship". Rugby Football Union. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
    17. "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.
    18. Tony Williams and Bill Mitchell, ed. (1990). Courage Official Rugby Union Club Directory 1990–91. Windsor: Burlington Publishing Co Ltd.
    19. Mick Cleary and John Griffiths, ed. (1996). Rothmans Rugby Union Yearbook 1996–97. London: Headline Book Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7472-7771-2.
    20. "Leagues 1997/98". Moseley Rugby Club. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
    21. "RFU council approves expansion of National League One". ESPN. 17 March 2006.
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