Championship clubs hail ‘new era’ after approval of promotion to Premiership

  • Two-leg playoff approved between bottom and top clubs
  • Council votes to relax minimum standards for promotion

Championship clubs have welcomed the approval of promotion to the Premiership as a “new era” for the professional game in England.

The Rugby Football Union’s council has ratified a home-and-away playoff between the bottom-placed Premiership club and the winner of the Championship, starting from the 2025-26 season. It means there could be movement between the top two divisions for the first time since Saracens returned to the top flight in 2021 after receiving a 105-point deduction for salary cap breaches, resulting in their relegation 12 months earlier.

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Northampton and Bath prove they are the teams of today and tomorrow

Epic Premiership final suggests rugby union may be about to usher in a new order to follow that of Saracens and Exeter

As the Northampton team bus pulled away from Twickenham on Saturday night, celebrations in full swing, ski goggles adorning heads of the already well-oiled Premiership champions, one of their former players could be spotted making his way across the car park. Rob Horne, the former Australia international, had flown thousands of miles to watch his old side end their 10-year wait for a Premiership title in desperately tense fashion.

It was a poignant moment to see Horne at Twickenham because it was there that Northampton played a match in his honour against Leicester in October 2018. It was six months after he had sustained a career-ending injury, against the same opponents, at the age of 28. Horne was captaining Northampton for the first time that April afternoon but an early collision resulted in severed nerves and the permanent paralysis of his right arm.

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Courtney Lawes relieved to end Northampton career with final victory

  • Lawes marks last game before Brive move with title
  • ‘I couldn’t believe we won it … we tried so hard to lose it’

The France-bound Courtney Lawes says his Northampton side deserved to be crowned English champions but admitted they had ridden their luck against 14-man Bath before clinching their first Premiership title for a decade.

Lawes, who celebrated his final appearance for his hometown club by turning up bare-chested and wearing ski goggles to the post-match press conference, acknowledged Saints’ performance had left much to be desired after hoisting the trophy aloft alongside his teammate Lewis Ludlam. “I’m actually still livid from the game,” said Lawes, speaking to TNT Sports. “I don’t think we could have played worse.

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Alex Mitchell try earns Northampton title as 14-man Bath are denied

  • Premiership final: Northampton 25-21 Bath
  • Bath overcome Beno Obano’s dismissal to scare Saints

Northampton have waited a long time for a day like this. The last time they lifted the Premiership trophy was in 2014 and the delight at the final whistle was understandably heartfelt. The Saints were not at their best and were wobbling against 14-man opposition before a 73rd minute try from their England scrum-half saved his side’s blushes and killed off a seriously gallant Bath challenge.

Northampton had finished top of the regular season table but, in truth, on this particular day their composure deserted them too often and they came close to throwing everything away. They made far too many handling errors, were put under pressure at the set pieces and often struggled to make their numerical advantage pay until the replacement George Hendy burst clear to send the supporting Mitchell over and give the club’s departing legend Courtney Lawes a fitting send-off.

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Northampton 25-21 Bath: Premiership Rugby final – as it happened

Alex Mitchell’s late try rescued the title for Northampton after Bath had led despite Beno Obano’s early red card

1 min: HUGE MOMENT! Gallagher almost scores. Northampton cough the ball up from a line-out and Bath boot ahead. Gallagher chases but can’t gather the bouncing ball. Furbank makes a crucial tackle and Gallagher knocks-on. Scrum to Saints five out from their own line.

Peeeeep! Bath in blue, black and white. Northampton in green, black and gold. Smith kicks off, Bath collect and hoof back to half-way.

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Finn Russell given licence to thrill in final for Bath after Bahamas break

Fly-half enjoyed some special treatment from club’s owner to get fit for Premiership run-in

Whisked off to the Bahamas by a multimillionaire, escorted from island to island in a speedboat and strapped to a machine described as a probe that heats muscles from the inside – Finn Russell’s recent trip to the Caribbean is beginning to sound like the plot to the latest Bond film.

As with much of Russell’s career, however, the truth is stranger than fiction. Bath’s marquee signing and star fly-half suffered what the club would call only a “serious groin injury” in early April. He had, in fact, ruptured his adductor longus and torn an abdominal muscle and, such has been Russell’s impact in his first season at the Rec, Bath’s playoff pursuit was suddenly in danger of unravelling.

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Why fast-thinking, bulked-up Saints are Premiership final favourites

Full-back George Furbank typifies the new-look defensive approach that has propelled Northampton to Twickenham

There is always more to the best teams than meets the eye. On the surface Northampton are what they have always been: a proud club with excellent support and several hugely impressive individuals. Talk to those who have propelled the Saints to Twickenham, however, and it soon becomes clear their first appearance in a Premiership final for 10 years is not remotely a fluke.

If anything it has reached the stage where they will be seriously disappointed if celebratory chants of “shoe army” are not echoing around the sold-out stadium after the game. Bath are classy opposition on Saturday, equally keen to put some lean times behind them. But listen to some of the secrets behind Northampton’s improvement this season, allied to a fierce communal desire to give their departing legends a fitting send-off, and it is a distracted punter who bets against them.

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Bath and Northampton must live without fear in open Premiership final | Ugo Monye

Bath’s recruitment, including Finn Russell, has taken them up a level while Saints must move on from Champions Cup defeat

Regardless of who proves victorious in the Premiership final on Saturday, the champions will be the fifth different winners of the league in the last five years. That tells me that for all the problems the Premiership has encountered in recent times, there are reasons to be positive. That unpredictability is such a key selling point in our league, coming off the back of a period of dominance by Saracens and, to a lesser extent, Exeter.

It should go without saying that I wish we hadn’t reached a situation, in the manner that we did, whereby there are 10 teams in the league but the reality is there is now a far greater concentration of quality. The division of that quality across the league is so much better and as a result the competition – Newcastle notwithstanding – is much better. That is what sets the Premiership apart.

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Twickenham tightens security for Premiership final amid protest fears

  • RFU acts after pitch invasion at last year’s final
  • Bath semi-final win featured Jonny Hill incident

Undercover operatives are set to be deployed in the stands at Saturday’s Premiership final at Twickenham as part of measures aimed at avoiding a repeat of last year’s pitch invasions, with the Rugby Football Union described as being “all over” security arrangements.

Premiership officials have confirmed the showdown between Northampton and Bath is their fastest ever sell-out with a crowd of 82,000 due at Twickenham, ensuring a greater security presence than last year.

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Northampton’s Alex Mitchell backs Fin Smith in duel with Bath’s Finn Russell

  • Fly-halves go head-to-head in Premiership final
  • ‘Fin has shocked me. He has been awesome’

The England scrum-half Alex Mitchell is backing his teammate Fin Smith to win his looming fly-half duel with Finn Russell when Northampton face Bath in the Gallagher Premiership final this weekend. The battle of the two No 10s and goalkickers will be a key element of the game on Saturday and Mitchell believes the more youthful Smith has all the necessary tools to emerge on top.

Mitchell, 27, will have his own hands full opposite Bath’s captan Ben Spencer but, following Saints’ semi-final win against the defending champions Saracens, he believes the 22-year-old Smith is up there with Russell as a game-breaking threat.

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The Breakdown | Premiership final masks turmoil simmering below rugby’s surface

It’s not a sexy topic but rugby union can’t get away from the fact the top of the pyramid needs strong foundations to sustain it

At first glance English rugby has increasing reasons for optimism. A shiny, happy grand final awaits at Twickenham on Saturday involving two teams laden with high-quality homegrown players. The national team are showing genuine signs of life, as they hope to demonstrate against the All Blacks next month. Both sides also insist relations between the Rugby Football Union and the Premiership clubs are less fractious than for many years.

Dig a little deeper, though, and the reality is less glitter-strewn. There are only 10 of those aforementioned Premiership clubs still standing and increasingly few are in rude financial health. Adult male participation at club level continues to decline. A growing number of parents are wondering if there might be less fraught school sports for little Jonny or Mary to play. And, as this week’s latest cry for help from the Championship makes clear, there may soon be a cavernous void where a vibrant and ambitious second tier of clubs should be.

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Championship clubs fear bankruptcy without fairer deal from RFU

  • Talks over proposed partnership fail to appease second tier
  • Championship clubs issued deadline by RFU to accept terms

England’s second-tier clubs say they face being pushed into ­bankruptcy unless they receive a fairer deal in negotiations with the Rugby ­Football Union and the Premiership. The Championship clubs also insist the terms of the proposed Professional Game Partnership risk dividing the game “to the detriment of the sport in England”.

The RFU and the Premiership clubs are preparing to unveil an eight‑year deal that will cover all aspects of ­English professional rugby but, as yet, there is no firm agreement over the future shape of promotion and relegation to and from the Championship, nor the confirmed level of central funding for clubs outside the elite.

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Finn Russell to conduct Bath’s final quest in showdown with Saints’ Smith

Scotland playmaker has enjoyed success at Twickenham and will be instrumental in club’s hopes of a first title since 1996

The finale to the English club season almost feels like a throwback to another era. On Saturday Bath will seek to claim their first league title since 1996 while Northampton’s solitary Premiership title was won 10 years ago. Add in a near-capacity crowd for a domestic Twickenham final – attendances have been on the wane in recent times – and it has all the makings of a cracking occasion.

Bath, in particular, are daring to dream that decades of frustration and underachievement could be almost over. Two years ago they finished bottom of the league but the 31-23 semi-final win against Sale on Saturday was the latest example of their bench strength and increasing ability to tough out tight games. In Finn Russell at fly‑half they also have a conductor who relishes big occasions.

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Bath set up Premiership final with Northampton by seeing off Sale

  • Playoff semi-final: Bath 31-23 Sale
  • Annett’s late try helps secure Twickenham trip

Bath are into the Premiership final for the first time in nine years but they are not a team who give their supporters an easy ride. At times it was Sale who looked the side most likely to meet Northampton at Twickenham next Saturday, only for a 74th-minute try from Niall Annett and 16 points from the boot of Finn Russell to keep Bath on track for the promised land.

Maybe it was the nerves associated with such a big occasion but not until the closing couple of minutes could home fans remotely relax. It is 28 years since their favourites were last crowned champions of England and the huge outpouring of joy at the final whistle showed exactly what this result meant to everyone connected with the club.

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Owen Farrell leaves shores as one of England’s greats with last starring role

Final match for Saracens ended in defeat but his contribution was even more impressive after playing with a tear in his quad

Owen Farrell cut a lone figure as he walked round the perimeter of Franklin’s Gardens applauding fans, most of them backing Northampton. And, here’s the thing, they applauded him back.

A cacophony of boos greeted his every contribution in the Premiership semi-final that had gone before, apart from the stunned silence for a couple of flashes of brilliance from the man that had conjured two tries for Saracens in the second half.

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