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League rugby in England began with the formation of the Courage Leagues in 1987, after years of informal games organised by clubs around the country. In the first season 12 clubs were expected to organise fixtures between themselves and Leicester were England's first official champions when they beat Waterloo on the last day of the 1987-88 season.

The following year regular fixtures were introduced and in 1994 the league expanded to a full program of home and away matches for the first time, coinciding with the league being televised for the first time.

The number of clubs in the English top flight fluctuated between 10 and 14 clubs over the following years before settling on 12 ahead of the 1999-2000 season with promotion and relegation a constant issue of debate.

The league became fully professional in time for the 1996-97 season but financial pressures saw the Premiership reduced to 12 teams for the 1999-2000 season when Richmond went bankrupt and London Scottish merged with London Irish.

A change in title sponsor saw the league re-named the Allied Dunbar Premiership for the 1997-98 and since then Zurich and most recently Guinness have sponsored the Premiership.

In the 2000-01 the season structure was revamped to include an eight-team play-off system, with the league winners still being regarded as English Champions, while the play-off winner would be crowned "Championship winner". In 2001-02 a controversial play-off system was introduced that would see the play-off winners crowned as champions rather than the league winners. This proposal was shelved due to an outcry from clubs and fans, but was implemented in the following season.

The first-placed side would play the winners of a play-off between the second and third placed side, a trend that was replaced almost immediately for the following season by a semi-final system pitting first against fourth and second against third.

Since 2003, the winner of the league has been determined by the play-off final. Wasps have mastered the play-off system, winning titles in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2008 but never topping the league.

Courage League

Year Winners
1987-88 Leicester
1988-89 Bath
1989-90 Wasps
1990-91 Bath
1991-92 Bath
1992-93 Bath
1993-94 Bath
1994-95 Leicester
1995-96 Bath
1996-97 Wasps

Allied Dunbar Premiership

Year Winners
1997-98 Newcastle Falcons
1998-99 Leicester Tigers
1999-00 Leicester Tigers

Zurich Premiership

Year Winners
2000-01 Leicester Tigers Leicester also finished 1st in the league table.
2001-02 Gloucester Leicester Tigers finished 1st in the league table. Uniquely in this year the side that topped the league, Leicester, were considered the champions rather than Gloucester, who won the play-off final 28-23 over Bristol.
2002-03 London Wasps Gloucester finished 1st in the league table. Wasps became the first team to be crowned English champions through the playoffs.
2003-04 London Wasps Bath finished 1st in the league table.
2004-05 London Wasps Leicester Tigers finished 1st in the league table

Guinness Premiership

Year Winners
2005-06 Sale Sharks Sale Sharks finished 1st in the league table.
2006-07 Leicester Tigers Gloucester finished 1st in the league table.
2007-08 London Wasps Gloucester finished 1st in the league table.

Aviva Premiership

Year Winners
2008-09 Leicester Tigers Leicester Tigers finished 1st in the league table.
2009-10 Leicester Tigers Leicester Tigers finished 1st in the league table.
2010-11 Saracens Leicester Tigers finished 1st in the league table.
2011-12 Harlequins Harlequins finished 1st in the league table.

Zurich Championship finals

Year Date Score
2000-01 13 May 2001 Leicester Tigers 22-10 Bath
2001-02 8 June 2002 Gloucester 28-23 Bristol
2002-03 31 May 2003 London Wasps 39-3 Gloucester

Premiership finals (Twickenham Stadium)

Year Date Score
2003-04 29 May 2004 London Wasps 10-6 Bath
2004-05 14 May 2005 London Wasps 39-14 Leicester Tigers
2005-06 27 May 2006 Sale Sharks 45-20 Leicester Tigers
2006-07 12 May 2007 Leicester Tigers 44-16 Gloucester
2007-08 31 May 2008 London Wasps 26-16 Leicester Tigers
2008-09 16 May 2009 Leicester Tigers 10-9 London Irish
2009-10 29 May 2010 Leicester Tigers 33-27 Saracens
2010-11 28 May 2011 Saracens 22-18 Leicester Tigers
2011-12 26 May 2012 Harlequins 30-23 Leicester Tigers

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