The Amlin Challenge Cup kicked-off the season after the fledgling Heineken Cup was launched and began with 24 teams from seven nations in 1996/97. There were six teams in each of the four Pools in a competition that was initially called the European Conference, and the top two finishers went through to quarter-finals. The first fixture took place at Bourgoin's Stade Pierre Rajan, when 6,000 fans saw them beat Begles-Bordeaux 45-22 in Pool D. Back row man Pierre Raschi had the honour of scoring the first try.
Seven of the eight clubs who reached the knock-out stage were French and three of the four Pool winners, Agen, Castres Olympique and Bourgoin, came from the Top 16. Northampton were the odd team out, winning Pool 3 with a 100% record.
The quarter-finals were all desperately close affairs with Bourgoin beating Clermont-Ferrand by two points, Narbonne winning in Northampton by a single point, Castres overcoming Toulon by eight points and Agen beating Begles-Bordeuax in extra-time.
Bourgoin and Castres maintained their unbeaten runs through to the final at Stade de la Mediterranee, Beziers, where the combined boots of Alexandre Peclier and Paul Favre kicked Bourgoin to an 18-9 victory to allow French international lock Marc Cecillon to pick up the trophy. The Bourgoin centre Stephane Glas went on to play in the 205 Heineken Cup final with Stade Francais Paris.