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The History of the County Championship  
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The Early Years

Information on the beginnings of the County Championship has been hard to come by. It was first officially recognized by the Rugby Union in 1889. It seems that to start with there was a type of league system with counties playing other teams from all over the country. Some counties played more games than others and the winners were decided by the Committee of the Rugby Union.

In 1892 the so-called "second system" was brought in, in which the leaders of four Regional Groups, North West, North East, South West and South East played each other in an all play all mini-league to decide the title.

In 1896 the "third system" was inaugurated.  All the Northern Counties were grouped together as the Northern Division while the Southern Counties formed two groups, South-East and South-West.  The winners from the North and South played the Final.  The match between Surrey and Yorkshire at Richmond Athletic Ground was the first to be billed as "The Final Match for the Championship". This also coincided with the adoption of a more or less modern scoring system (3 points for a try, 5 points for a goal or converted try). This system lasted for 20 seasons.

The "fourth system" started in 1921. The Counties were grouped in five divisions decided on a points basis.  The South-West Group was the smallest group with only four teams, whilst the Southern Group was regarded as the weakest. The winners of these two groups therefore played off in a "Quarter-Final" with the winners going through to the Semi-Finals with the winners of the other three groups.  In modern times the Quarter Final was the almost exclusive preserve of the South-West Group. From the Southern Group Hampshire were the only team ever to reach the final, largely due to the strength of United Services Portsmouth.

The winners of the first seven County Championships are shown below.  From 1892 to 1895 the other three Regional Group winners are also shown:

Year
Winners Other Group Winners
1889
Yorkshire  
1890
Yorkshire  
1891
Lancashire
1892
Yorkshire Lancashire, Midland Counties, Kent
1893
Yorkshire Cumberland, Devon, Middlesex
1894
Yorkshire Lancashire, Midland Counties, Somerset
1895
Yorkshire Cumberland, Midland Counties, Devon