Danny Care is hoping to improve on Harlequins' quarter-final showing in last year's Heineken Cup
Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care insists he cherished the opportunity to play in last season's Heineken Cup and is feeling the same way ahead of this year's competition.
The controversy surrounding a blood replacement injury during the quarter-finals of last season's tournament may have been an unwanted talking point for the London club but Care prefers to focus on the positives.
Quins qualified for the last eight as surprise winners of a demanding group that included French giants Stade Francais, 1999 winners Ulster and 2007 semi-finalists the Scarlets.
And the former Leeds and now England No9 cannot speak highly enough of Europe's premier domestic competition.
"I loved it. We had some great games," said Care, who highlights the thrilling wins over Stade as his favourites.
"Obviously you pick out the ones against Stade Francais home and away. They were fantastic games and it shows what a fantastic competition it is when you can get 75,000 supporters to come and watch you in a club game.
"Then the drama we had back at home was amazing. It shows what a good competition it is."
That brace of wins against one of the aristocrats of European rugby effectively sealed Quins' qualification for the knockout stages for the first time since the 1997/98 season.
A shock 15-10 triumph at the Stade de France was followed by an even more stunning 19-17 victory at the Twickenham Stoop.
Defeat at Ulster in their penultimate match proved to be their only loss of the pool stages as Quins surprised even themselves in making it through to the last eight.
"We didn't really expect to win the group in the manner that we did," added Care.
"We knew it was going to be a very tough group. We took each game as it came as it's all about momentum.
"But we've got another very tough group again this year. It's going to be really hard for us but people were saying the same last year so, hopefully, we can prove them wrong again."
That group features another of the top sides from France in three-times Heineken Cup winners Toulouse, last season's beaten semi-finalists Cardiff Blues, and familiar English foe Sale Sharks.
Quins kick off their new campaign in the Welsh capital on Saturday afternoon and Care believes the controversial summer will only make them stronger ahead of what will be another huge challenge.
"Team spirit's been massively important. Last year we showed our team spirit to win in the last minute against Stade Francais, to go over there and win, and in other games as well.
"The team unity in this club will never be questioned. We're a good bunch of lads, we get on well on and off the pitch and I think what's happened over the summer will only make us stronger.
"We performed well last year but we've got to back it up and perform even better. We all want to play in the Heineken Cup - it's the pinnacle of playing for your club. We want to go one step further and get into a semi-final and possibly a final this year."
As part of the build-up to next month's Cardiff 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals weekend, ERC has joined forces with the WRU, Cardiff Blues and adidas to develop an annual grassroots community rugby programme targeting young players.
The Ulster Rugby full back, Jared Payne (No 15), has been suspended for two (2) weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Dublin arising from the Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Saracens at Ravenhill Stadium on Saturday, 5 April.