After narrowly missing out on lifting the European Rugby Challenge Cup last year, scrum-half Danny Care is confident Harlequins are able to go one better this time around, writes Andy Gerlis.
Quins’ 26-19 loss to Montpellier in last season’s final was a disappointing end to a tournament that had seen the three-time Challenge Cup winners lose just one game before coming up against the French giants in the showpiece.
The teams had met twice in the group stage, winning a game each, before locking horns once again in the final with the French side coming out on top.
As Harlequins tried to trim a seven-point lead with seconds left on the clock, Ben Botica’s decision to kick the ball long instead of mounting an attack effectively handed the victory to a deserving Montpellier side.
But with Quins’ first game of this year’s Challenge Cup a rematch of their successful 2011 final against Stade Francais this Thursday, Care is feeling positive about his side’s chances this time around.
“It’s great to test yourself against different competition from the Pro12, the French league and we’re playing against a Romanian team who we’ve never played before,” said Care, who will see Harlequins also take on Edinburgh and Timisoara Saracens in Pool 5.
“It’s a great experience for the lads, great to see different coaches and go to Romania to play rugby – which I’ve never done before – I’m really looking forward to that one.
“You get to test yourself against the best players that you don’t get to play against very often.
“It’s a nice break from the Premiership and playing the same teams over and over again, it’s great to test yourself against other teams.”
And looking back at last year’s Challenge Cup final, the 29-year-old believes his team-mates gained invaluable experience.
He added: “We got pretty close to lifting the trophy, but fell at the final hurdle which was frustrating, it would have been great to have lifted that in France, but it wasn’t to be.
“We started really well, we won all our home games and got a couple of good away wins as well and finished top of our group.
“It was huge; it was great to play at Grand Stade de Lyon, it’s a brilliant stadium.
“Some boys haven’t played in a final before and I’ve only played in a few, so it was great to be up there fighting in a massive final.
“We started the game well and were leading for a while and genuinely thought we were going to win the game, but they showed their class.
“We won this competition in 2011, which was huge for the club and a good stepping stone to win the Premiership the year after, so it’s very special to play against the best teams in Europe.”
*European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) is the organiser of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and the Challenge Cup Qualifying Competition. Follow all the excitement of another thrilling season of European action at epcrugby.com