As the world-class action unfolds over the weekend, a compelling subplot will be the search for a successor to Leinster Rugby's Rob Kearney as the ERC European Player of the Year 2013, which is one of the most prized individual accolades in the game.
All 15 of the outstanding players named in the initial longlist for the 2013 Award, selected after the Pool stages, have been named in the match squads of this weekend's Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finalists, and will have an opportunity to showcase their talents on what is recognised as one of the biggest weekends in the world rugby calendar.
The Judging Panel of distinguished rugby experts will also have the option to consider additional players who make major contributions during this weekend's European quarter-final action before announcing a five-man shortlist following the semi-finals with the overall winner named directly after the ERC European club finals in Dublin in May.
In addition to the decision of the panel, the 44 clubs in the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup will have the opportunity to vote for contenders nominated on the ERC European Player of the Year 2013 shortlist while supporters can also have their say on Twitter using #ERCPlayer2013, and on the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup Facebook pages.
The illustrious list features Wesley Fofana of ASM Clermont Auvergne, Harlequins' full back, Mike Brown, Owen Farrell of Saracens and Ulster Rugby's Ruan Pienaar and sees all eight Heineken Cup quarter-finalists represented, while Joe Launchbury from London Wasps was the sole Amlin Challenge Cup representative before this weekend's action got underway.
The Judging Panel for this season's award is: Stuart Barnes (Sky Sports), Will Greenwood (Daily Telegraph, World Cup winner and two-time Challenge Cup winner), Stephen Jones (Rugby Correspondent, Sunday Times), Emmanuel Massicard (Editor, Midi Olympique) and Gerry Thornley (Rugby Correspondent, Irish Times).
ERC European Player of the Year 2013 Longlist
(based on performances in the pool stages)
Steffon Armitage (Toulon)
Rory Best (Ulster Rugby)
Julien Bonnaire (ASM Clermont Auvergne)
Mike Brown (Harlequins)
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
Owen Farrell (Saracens)
Wesley Fofana (ASM Clermont Auvergne)
Mamuka Gorgodze (Montpellier)
Charlie Hodgson ((Saracens)
James Johnston (Harlequins)
Joe Launchbury (London Wasps)
Morgan Parra (ASM Clermont Auvergne)
Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers)
Ruan Pienaar (Ulster Rugby)
Simon Zebo (Munster Rugby
• In 2010, ERC launched the highly acclaimed ERC15 Awards, recognising the efforts of a number of outstanding contributors to the first 15 years of European club rugby competition. Two-time Heineken Cup winner, Ronan O'Gara, was the inaugural recipient of the ERC European Player Award as the best player over the first 15 years of the two tournaments.
• For the 2010/11 season, ERC moved to present the honour to the best player of the season from the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup, selected by a panel of five experts in conjunction with the 44 clubs from the two competitions with supporters also given the opportunity to vote on the shortlist.
• A shortlist of five players will be announced following the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup semi-finals (26/27/28 April) and the ERC European Player of the Year 2013 will be selected after the Dublin finals weekend of 17/18 May.