The new initiatives from ERC, the tournament organisers of European club rugby, also saw three of the Heineken Cup Pool runners-up qualifying for the quarter-finals along with the five Amlin Challenge Cup Pool winners.
Cardiff Blues, Gloucester Rugby and the Scarlets were the ground-breaking clubs to earn the privilege of crossing over from the Heineken Cup to the Amlin Challenge Cup in mid season, enhancing the profile and prestige of a competition that sets off featuring 20 teams from England, France, Ireland, Italy, Romania and Spain taking part in five Pools of four teams each.
The cross tournament move coincided with Amlin's arrival as Tournament Title Partner and Premium Partner to the Heineken Cup as the competition goes from strength to strength, attracting increased broadcast coverage and column inches.
Things have come a long way since the first season of the tournament had seen 24 teams from England, Ireland, Italy, France, Scotland, Wales and Romania take part with Bourgoin winning a Beziers battle of the boots 18-9 in an all-French final against Castres Olympique.
Year 2 involved 32 teams competing in eight Pools of four with it all ending in yet another strictly French affair as Colomiers beat Agen 43-5 in Toulouse, Colomiers running in a tournament final record of seven tries.
In 1998/99 the format again changed to three Pools of seven teams - with Spain and Portugal joining the party - but even that failed to break the French monopoly of the grand final with Montferrand (now ASM Clermont Auvergne) lifting the trophy in front of a tournament record crowd of 31,986 as they swept Bourgoin aside with a 35-16 triumph.
In the early years change was the order of the day and tournament No 4 reverted to home and away fixtures between 28 teams in seven Pools - Pau winning the fourth successive all-French final 34-21.
That sequence was finally halted by Harlequins as 27 points from the boot of Paul Burke helped them break the French dominance with an extra time 42-33 victory in a final to which Parker Pen had added both their name and financial support, backing that was then extended for a further three seasons.
And while French teams had ruled the roost in those opening tournaments, English teams then did much the same as Sale Sharks (twice), London Wasps, Harlequins (again) and Gloucester Rugby took the honours. Sale beat Pontypridd 25-22 in the 2002 final and Pau 27-3 in 2005 while Laurence Dallaglio's Wasps won a 2003 thriller against Bath Rugby 48-30 en route to becoming the first to win both titles, adding the Heineken Cup crown 12 months later.
Harlequins made it a tournament double as they held n for a 27-26 won over Montferrand in 2004 with the 2006 showpiece occasion needing extra time to separate the all-England affair before Gloucester Rugby edged out London Irish 36-34.
Aurelien Rougerie ended the run of English success as he led ASM Clermont Auvergne to a 22-6 win over Bath Rugby, the 2007 beaten finalists returning a year later to take the spoils with a 24-16 win against Worcester Warriors in captain Steve Borthwick's final match for the club.
That meant the 1998 Heineken Cup champions had joined London Wasps in winning both European titles - and a year later Northampton Saints became the third to do the European club rugby tournaments double as the 2000 Heineken Cup winners beat Bourgoin 15-3 in a contest dominated by the boot.