The 2001/02 season gave the supporters of Bristol Shoguns a Twickenham final, security of a five-year £2 million sponsorship deal and the opportunity to watch some of the most exciting rugby in the Zurich Premiership.
Everything that happened before the start of the 2001/02 season set the scene. The Club had a new name, Bristol Shoguns, thanks to the record breaking sponsorship package with motoring giants Mitsubishi Motors. The team also saw the arrival of some of the game's most promising young talent, as well experienced internationals Julian White and double world cup winning centre, Jason Little.
Despite a mixed start, supporters at the Memorial Stadium witnessed some breathtaking rugby during the second half of the season. With the Shoguns finishing the season with the most bonus points in the Zurich Premiership, three players in the top try scorers chart, a place at Twickenham in the final of the Zurich Championship, and also a place in the Heineken Cup for the 2002/03 season.
An inconsistent run of results was broken when more than 10,000 turned up at the Memorial Stadium to watch the West Country derby with Bath in November. The Shoguns put on a magical display to bring the record crowd to its feet in the 31-17 win.
One of the key turning points of the season was the arrival of former All Blacks selector Peter Thorburn. The ex-North Harbour coach joined in late February for the remainder of the season. His fresh input coupled with the experience of Dean Ryan and his coaching team helped bring out the best in the Shoguns.
In the remaining fixtures the Shoguns started to open up defences and put the points on the board, including 47 against Sale Sharks, 40 against Gloucester and 38 against recently crowned champions Leicester Tigers.
The great run of results led to the Shoguns securing a top eight finish and a place in the quarter-final of the Zurich Championship at Welford Road with qualification for the lucrative Heineken Cup up for grabs.
The Shoguns didn't disappoint in the Zurich Championship when they demolished the Tigers 27-13 in the quarter-final and then Northampton Saints 32-24 in the semi-final.
Despite a disappointing defeat by Gloucester in the final, the thousands of travelling Shoguns fans enjoyed a great day out that also included the Shoguns U21s playing in the U21s Championship final.
With a Twickenham final and Heineken Cup qualification secured, the team captain Jason Little called time on his impressive career. The double world cup winner's departure was soon followed by Dean Ryan's transfer to Gloucester, with the former England number eight being replaced by Peter Thorburn.
The game of rugby certainly stepped up a level and moved on in the city of Bristol during the 2001/02 season. Attendance figures increased by more than 20 per cent and the Club saw other off the field activity set a new pace.
The record five-year £2 million sponsorship package with Mitsubishi Motors was soon followed by new contracts with Puma and Arcadia. The optimism and high level of interest amongst the public and the sponsorship sector was mirrored in the corporate hospitality sector. The 2001/02 season saw the corporate boxes sell out for the first time and record interest in the home fixture against Bath saw more than 900 corporate hospitality tickets sold for the West Country derby in November.
With new signings strengthening the squad and the Shoguns U21s on a high after picking up their third consecutive league trophy in 2002, everyone involved with Bristol Shoguns is looking forward to the 2002/03 season, and continuing the form of the second half of last season.