A timeline of key events since rugby union turned professional in 1995

Rugby union was declared an open sport on 26 August 1995, a couple of months after South Africa had won the third edition of the World Cup.

It represented a huge change for the players and coaches in the sport, and this week marks 25 years since the decision.

Here the PA news agency takes a look at some of the key events since rugby union left behind its amateur roots.

August 26 1995: The International Rugby Board declared the sport an “open game” and so all restrictions on payments to those connected to rugby union were removed.

October 31 1995: Toulouse and Farul Constanta contest the first ever Heineken Cup group match, with the French side winning 54-10. The inaugural tournament involved 12 teams from France, Ireland, Italy, Romania and Wales.

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January 6 1996: A crowd of 21,800 pack into the Cardiff Arms Park to watch Toulouse win the first ever Heineken Cup with a 21-18 extra-time victory against Cardiff.

March 1 1996: SANZAR, a joint venture of the South African Rugby Union, the New Zealand Rugby Union and the Australian Rugby Union, launch the inaugural Super 12 season. Auckland Blues would clinch the title at Eden Park almost three months later.

March 16 1996: England, under the coaching direction of Jack Rowell, triumph in the first Five Nations of the professional era.

July 6 1996: New Zealand beat Australia in Wellington in the opening match of the Tri Nation Series and the All Blacks clinch the inaugural tournament after winning all four of their fixtures.

July 13 1996: England are kicked out of the Five Nations after selling their TV rights for the tournament to BSkyB for £87.5million. England were later reinstated before the 1997 edition got under way.

Jack Rowell was England head coach between 1995 and 1997 when rugby union changed from amateur to a professional sport
Jack Rowell was England head coach between 1995 and 1997 when rugby union changed from amateur to a professional sport

January 25 1997: In the first season with English sides in the Heineken Cup, Leicester make it all the way to the final where they come unstuck against Brive in Cardiff.

February 1 1997: England, after months of talks, defeat Scotland 41-13 at Twickenham in their opening match of the Five Nations.

August 23 1997: The Allied Dunbar Premiership, previously titled the Courage League National One, kicks off with Newcastle beating Bath at the Rec. The Falcons would secure the title by one point ahead of Saracens.

January 31 1998: Bath become the first English winners of the Heineken Cup with a narrow 19-18 victory against Brive in Bordeaux.

August 24 1998: Cardiff and Swansea pull out of the Welsh Premier Division and are fined £150,000 each by the Welsh Rugby Union following talks regarding a cross-British league. Instead of playing in the top flight of Welsh rugby, the clubs contest friendlies against all 14 Premiership teams.

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September 18 1998: The fourth edition of the Heineken Cup gets under way without English sides after a dispute between European Rugby and the RFU. Cardiff and Swansea also fail to take part due to their ongoing battle with the Welsh Rugby Union.

February 6 1999: The Five Nations starts with England part of the tournament despite being thrown out of the competition a month earlier following more debate over the television deal with Sky. They were eventually reinstated while Italy, who were to be drafted in as a replacement, were made to wait for their chance.

September 3 1999: After the Scottish Rugby Union and Welsh Rugby Union join forces, an inaugural Welsh-Scottish League is formed with Edinburgh and Glasgow involved alongside 10 clubs from Wales.

October 17 1999: Jason Robinson completes a high-profile switch of codes from Wigan to Sale days after a loss to St Helens in the Super League Grand Final.

Jason Robinson played a crucial role in England first and only Rugby World Cup win in 2003
Jason Robinson played a crucial role in England first and only Rugby World Cup win in 2003

November 6 1999: Australia beat France 35-12 at the Millennium Stadium to win the first World Cup in the professional era.

November 19 1999: Leicester, Bath, Wasps, Saracens, Harlequins and Northampton take part in the Heineken Cup, bringing an end to the exodus of English clubs in the competition.

February 5 2000: Italy secure a shock victory over holders Scotland at Stadio Flaminio in Rome on their first appearance in the new Six Nations.

May 20 2001: Harlequins end the four-year dominance of French sides in the European Challenge Cup – the second tier competition below the Heineken Cup – with a 42-33 success over Narbonne at the Madejski Stadium.

#FlashbackFriday to the 2001 #ChallengeCupRugby final when @Harlequins triumphed 🏆

Keith Wood describes how knackering it was as he played 80 minutes at hooker and a further 30 at openside 🥵

Join him tomorrow for the #HeinekenChampionsCupRewind 👇 https://t.co/JqHYnb2wQY

— Challenge Cup (@ERChallengeCup) June 19, 2020

August 17 2001: The Celtic League, containing Irish sides in addition to teams from Wales and Scotland, begins, with Leinster clinching glory in the inaugural season of the event.

May 11 2002: The Welsh-Scottish League concludes after three seasons, with Llanelli the final winners of the tournament.

November 22 2003: A drop goal from Jonny Wilkinson hands England a maiden World Cup victory in the final against Australia in Sydney.

February 10 2006: The Super 12 is expanded to become the Super 14 after Western Force and the Cheetahs join.

April 12 2009: Harlequins become embroiled in the ‘Bloodgate’ scandal. It transpires that wing Tom Williams was given a fake blood capsule to allow the substituted Nick Evans to come on as a blood replacement in their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leinster. Despite fly-half Evans getting back on the pitch, he misses his late drop goal attempt and Leinster win.

Harlequins Tom Williams, left, is blood replaced by Nick Evans in the last few minutes of the Heineken Cup match at Twickenham Stoop against Leinster
Harlequins Tom Williams, left, is blood replaced by Nick Evans in the last few minutes of the Heineken Cup match at Twickenham Stoop against Leinster

September 2 2009: Harlequins escape a ban from the competition after the European Rugby Cup board approved a punishment involving a 12-month ban for Williams, which was reduced to four on appeal, a three-year suspension for director of rugby Dean Richards and a two-year ban for physiotherapist Steph Brennan. Quins were fined £260,000, while chairman Charles Jillings resigned.

February 18 2011: The first campaign of a new 15-team format for the re-titled Super Rugby begins after Melbourne Rebels became the fifth Australian outfit to join, with entry for South Africa’s Southern Kings denied.

September 2 2011: Aironi and Benetton Treviso join the Celtic League, which rebrands as PRO12 due to it now containing clubs from Italy in addition to Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

August 18 2012: The Rugby Championship replaces the Tri Nations, with Argentina now part of the annual tournament alongside Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

December 18 2014: Dan Carter signs deal worth a reported €1.5million to become the highest paid player in the world after he agrees a move to Racing 92 after the 2015 World Cup.

Racing 92 made Dan Carter the most expensive player in the world
Racing 92 made Dan Carter the most expensive player in the world

Racing 92 made Dan Carter the most expensive player in the world (David Davies/PA)February 26 2016: The Jaguares from Argentina and Sunwolves from Japan take part in the 21st edition of Super Rugby, expanding the number of countries involved in the format to five.

August 6 2016: Rugby 7s appears in a summer Olympics for the first time as the men’s and women’s events get underway.

September 1 2017: The PRO12 expands to become the PRO14 after South African sides the Cheetahs and Southern Kings join the competition.

November 5 2019: Saracens are docked 35 points and fined more than £5million after breaching salary-cap rules.

January 18 2020: Premiership Rugby confirm Saracens will be relegated to the Championship at the end of the season, with league chief executive Darren Childs admitting they had to be “prepared to take strong action to enforce the regulations governing fair competition between our clubs”.

March 16 2020: Rugby union in England is suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the Six Nations and other tournaments across the world already halted. The Gallagher Premiership would not return until August.

June 13, 2020: Rugby union returns in New Zealand after the coronavirus pandemic with Highlanders beating Chiefs in Super Rugby in front of over 20,000 supporters at the Forsyth Barr Stadium.