Ask John
Premiership Rugby Special: Top flight 1997-98 to date
John Griffiths
August 30, 2010

Welcome to the latest edition of Ask John where renowned rugby historian John Griffiths will answer any rugby-related query you have!

So, if there's something you've always wanted to know about the game we love but didn't know who to ask, or you think you can stump our expert - then get involved by sending us a question.

In this edition John focuses his attention on the Aviva Premiership, which is set to get underway this weekend.

Which clubs have won the Premiership and how often?

The Premiership was established in England in 1997 in the early days of the professional game and replaced the top flight of the national leagues structure launched a decade earlier under Courage's sponsorship. The early Premiership titles were decided on league play only, but since the 2002-03 campaign there has been a play-off tournament attached to the league season and leading to a Grand Final played at Twickenham.

The winners of the league stage have not always gone on to win the Premiership. Gloucester famously (or infamously depending on your allegiances) finished top of league play three times (in 2003, 2007 and 2008) but each time were unable to carry their success through the knockout stages.

Leicester (seven titles) and Wasps (four) have ruled the tournament to date, with Newcastle (in the inaugural season 1997-98) and Sale (2005-06) the only clubs to interrupt their dominance.

The full list of Premiership winners is as follows:

1997-98 Newcastle
1998-99 Leicester
1999-2000 Leicester
2000-01 Leicester
2001-02 Leicester
2002-03 Wasps
2003-04 Wasps
2004-05 Wasps
2005-06 Sale
2006-07 Leicester
2007-08 Wasps
2008-09 Leicester
2009-10 Leicester

How many clubs have participated in the top flight of the Premiership?

Eighteen to date. There have been 13 Premiership seasons so far. In 1998-99 there were 14 clubs comprising the top flight, but in all other seasons there have been a dozen. Eight clubs have been ever-present at the top level: Bath, Gloucester, Leicester, London Irish, Newcastle, Sale, Saracens and Wasps. Two clubs, Harlequins and Northampton, have participated in the top flight of twelve Premierships. Harlequins spent 2005-06 in National One (winning immediate promotion back to the Premiership) and Northampton did so in 2007-08.

Eight others have appeared:

Nine times: Bristol (1997-98; 1999-2000; 2000-01; 2001-02; 2002-03; 2005-06; 2006-07; 2007-08 and 2008-09)
Seven times: Leeds (2001-02; 2002-03; 2003-04; 2004-05; 2005-06; 2007-08 and 2009-10)
Six times: Worcester (2004-05; 2005-06; 2006-07; 2007-08; 2008-09 and 2009-10)
Twice: Bedford (1998-99 and 1999-2000)
Twice: Richmond (1997-98 and 1998-99)
Twice: Rotherham (2000-01 and 2003-04)
Once: London Scottish (1998-99)
Once: West Hartlepool (1998-99)

Last year's winners of the Championship (previously known as National One) were Exeter, who beat table-topping Bristol in the home/away play-off finals. The Chiefs will become the 19th club to participate in the Premiership's top flight when they face Gloucester at home at Sandy Park in next Saturday's opening salvos of the 2010-11 season. They are the first new members of the elite since Worcester made their debut in 2004.

Who set the Premiership's main match records?

The highest points contribution by a player is 32. Niall Woods set the record playing for London Irish against Harlequins in April 1998 scoring two tries, eight conversions and two penalty goals. Dave Walder equalled the record scoring two tries, converting both of them and landing six penalty goals (all his side's points - a record) in Newcastle's win against Saracens in November 2000. The third and most recent player to date to chalk up 32 points in a match was Tim Stimpson. Playing for Leicester against Newcastle in September 2002, the former England full-back/wing kicked four conversions, seven penalty goals and a dropped goal.

The former Aussie wing, Ryan Constable, holds the record for most tries in a match. He crossed six times - three tries in each half - playing for Saracens against Bedford in April 2000. "I was just on the end of some good lead-up work," he modestly told his local newspaper. Bedford also found themselves on the wrong end of the record for most team points conceded in a match when they were defeated 106-12 by Richmond in April 1999. The 94-point losing margin also still stands as a Premiership team record. The Bedford boss, Rudi Straeuli, admittedly fielded his second XV for the match, keeping his first-team players in reserve for the Premiership play-offs in a bid to avoid relegation. The ruse worked, for his side went on to overcome Rotherham on aggregate the week later and lived to fight another season in the top flight.

Leicester and Wasps presumably dominate the all-time Premiership but which clubs rank next overall?

To the best of knowledge there has been no official or formal attempt to classify the clubs by their overall Premiership records. However, by concentrating solely on League finishes season-by-season, the composite table for the leading ten clubs reads as follows and confirms Leicester and Wasps as the leading clubs in the tournament's history to date:

Leicester: 4th 1st 1st 1st 1st 6th 5th 1st 2nd 2nd 4th 1st 1st
Wasps: 9th 5th 7th 2nd 7th 2nd 2nd 2nd 4th 5th 2nd 7th 5th
Gloucester: 6th 10th 3rd 7th 3rd 1st 4th 6th 5th 1st 1st 6th 7th
Bath: 3rd 6th 2nd 3rd 11th 11th 1st 4th 9th 8th 3rd 4th 4th
Northampton: 8th 2nd 5th 4th 5th 3rd 3rd 11th 6th 12th 13th 8th 2nd
Saracens: 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 10th 9th 10th 5th 10th 4th 8th 9th 3rd
Sale: 7th 11th 11th 10th 2nd 5th 7th 3rd 1st 10th 5th 5th 11th
London Irish: 11th 7th 8th 8th 4th 8th 8th 10th 3rd 6th 7th 3rd 6th
Newcastle: 1st 8th 9th 6th 6th 10th 9th 7th 7th 9th 11th 10th 9th
Harlequins: 10th 4th 10th 11th 9th 7th 6th 12th 13th 7th 6th 2nd 8th

Harlequins and Northampton won National One in 2005-06 and 2007-08 respectively, effectively finishing 13th in the English national hierarchy.

Who holds the record for most appearances in Premiership matches?

Simon Shaw, the Wasps lock, has been a regular since the start of the Premiership in 1997 and holds this record with 224 top flight appearances to date. Hugh Vyvyan, who began his Premiership days with Newcastle before joining Saracens, is only two behind. Forwards dominate the eleven players who have notched up 200 or more appearances. Scrum-half Andy Gomarsall (202 appearances) is the only back among them, though Kris Chesney who stands fourth on the list played as a back before serving in the back-five of the scrum.


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