George Earle: Time to transfer Scarlets promise onto European stage in Heineken Cup
SOUTH African lock George Earle believes the Scarlets pack can take their next step as an emerging force by standing toe to toe with one of the top sides in the Aviva Premiership.
The performances of the Scarlets' front five, and in particular the scrum, has been the shining light of a mixed campaign so far for the West Walians.
And Earle insists it is time to transfer that promise onto the European stage — starting with Saturday's Heineken Cup Pool 4 opener against Harlequins at The Stoop.
"I am glad we have got some reward for our performances in the pack, we deserve it, we have been working hard," said Earle. "But if you look at English Premiership rugby, all good quality packs do it week in week out.
"In Europe, we will play bigger teams who are more dominant at set piece so it is going to be a big challenge for us.
"If we can come out successful in these games that will build our confidence and we can really take our set piece to the next level."
The arrival of the South African trio of Earle, Joe Snyman and Jacobie Adriaanse has added depth and an abrasive edge to the Scarlets eight, but young props like Samson Lee and Rob Evans have also come to the fore, while the elder statesman of the squad, loose-head prop Phil John, has enjoyed an eye-catching resurgence over the last 18 months.
The Scarlets, though, know the bar will be raised in South West London this weekend with the Quins a formidable force at their own ground, a stone's throw from Twickenham.
"It is going to be about a mindset," added Earle, now in his second season at the Scarlets following his arrival from Super 15 side The Cheetahs.
"The Scarlets have a habit of shocking sides in the first round, we have to go out there, put last week against Glasgow behind us and really focus on starting well.
"Harlequins are a tremendous side, who have won their league numerous times, we have to really step up to the plate. It is about who pitches up on the day, anything can happen in Heineken Cup rugby and when you look at the Top 14 in France this season with a lot of minnows shocking the bigger sides — I think it is a good year for upsets."
The bookies have the Scarlets as rank outsiders in Pool 4, but Earle is convinced the Welsh region can make a mark this year.
"It is going to be a huge challenge. Last year we had the defending champions Leinster and Clermont, now we have Clermont again, who reached the final last year, and Racing who have spent a lot of money," he added.
"We have to step up, that is the only way we are going to compete with these guys. They might be earning triple we do, but we just have to match them with heart."