Following their relegation from the Premiership, Bristol began their campaign in the Championship knowing that winning the league would not be sufficient to see them promoted.
The new rules for the season dictated that the top eight of the twelve team league would qualify for promotion play-offs, with the remaining four competing together to avoid relegation. A number of the previous season’s squad remained at the club; they were joined by several experienced newcomers, as well as some promising Academy players. Scrum half Jason Spice was named first team captain, while second row Roy Winters became club captain.
From the word go it seemed likely that Bristol’s closest rivals for promotion would be Exeter. Having overcome tricky challenges in the opening weeks from London Welsh and Bedford, Bristol lost at home to their west country rivals in early October, but managed to turn the tables with a magnificent performance in the return fixture at Christmas. In the remaining league games the only defeats were at Doncaster and Moseley, while there was a particularly fine win at London Welsh in February. The club finished the league season at the top of the table, going on to negotiate home and away play-off games with Plymouth Albion, Cornish Pirates and Bedford. Only the Bedford away game was lost. Not all the victories saw the players at their best, although the team really clicked in the last group game, destroying Cornish Pirates with some splendid running rugby. London Welsh were beaten in a one-legged semi-final, heralding the predicted end of season showdown with Exeter. Bristol looked to have done a decent damage limitation exercise in holding Exeter to a three point lead after the first leg, but the return at the Memorial Stadium shocked the home supporters, Exeter’s convincing 29-10 win condemning Bristol to a further season outside the game’s top flight.