'If we lose this week, the Harlequins win counts for nothing'
THIS summer's transfer dealings say everything about the financial gulf between the sides who will take the field at Parc y Scarlets tomorrow evening (6pm).
While the Scarlets — bound by Welsh rugby's £3.5 million salary cap and the ball and chain of historic debt — opted to sell off one of the biggest names in world rugby in George North, Racing were busy adding three of North's Lions team-mates to their squad roster.
A recent study by Journal du Dimanche in France revealed that Jonny Sexton, following his move from Dublin to Paris, was the second highest earner in the Top 14, taking home a bumper 52,000 euros a month in his pay packet — with only Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson (56,000) raking in more.
Bankrolled by president Jacky Lorenzetti, a real estate billionaire, Racing have put together a formidable squad in the last couple of seasons, one that includes two other of the top ten earners across the channel — France hooker Dimitri Szarzewski and Wales's Lions centre Jamie Roberts.
You would imagine if the published list was longer, the names of Dan Lydiate, Argentinean Juan-Martin Hernandez and Springbok Brian Mujati wouldn't be far below.
The contrast to the Scarlets, a region constantly walking a financial tightrope, couldn't be greater.
Last weekend, head coach Simon Easterby named a side to face Harlequins with 11 players with roots in the region and another from across the Loughor.
Two of the try-scorers were recent products of the Scarlets Academy — Rhodri Williams from Ammanford and Jordan Williams, who played his junior rugby just across the road from Parc y Scarlets at New Dock Stars.
As for the region's own 'galacticos' — Jonathan Davies, Rhys Priestland and Scott Williams — they hail from Bancyfelin, Carmarthen and Newcastle Emlyn, respectively.
Going back to the club's halcyon European days when Llanelli reached numerous quarter-finals and two semi-finals in 2000 and 2002, the bosses at Stradey always felt they were punching above their weight.
Now, such is the financial clout of a Racing, Clermont or Toulon, knockout blows against the French heavyweights in Europe are becoming increasingly rare.
"You can only play 15 players at the end of the day," smiled Easterby when asked about the disparity in budgets between his side and their latest Pool 4 opponents.
"They do have huge depth in their squad and it wouldn't surprise me if they roll out ten or 12 different players this weekend — it certainly wouldn't reduce their quality.
"The money is what it is in France and we can't affect that. What we have got to do is deal with what we have got here and try to improve individuals to step up.
"We are lucky we have got individuals who have been playing at the top of their game, players like Jon Davies; and I firmly believe we are also growing a bit of depth here as well."
While financially it shouldn't be a contest tomorrow, the reality is that the Scarlets will feel they have every chance of building on their thrilling round one victory at The Stoop.
And the bookmakers agree.
Racing's form in the Top14 has been mixed and even though they provided evidence of their power game and the influence of Sexton in their 13-9 win over Clermont in Paris on Sunday, they are yet to show they are the same European force as the men from the Massif Central.
"Racing were pretty dogged without the ball against Clermont, which means we have to be accurate because Racing defend very well and haven't conceded many tries this season," added Easterby.
"Their scrum and driving line-out is a weapon for them and while our scrum has been good this season, this will be the toughest test yet.
"They are a pretty effective outfit, have coaches who won the French Championship with Castres last season, and they are starting to look like they are gelling a bit.
"What we have to do is focus on ourselves, get what we did last weekend in place and then try and counter some of their threats.
"We are going to have to muscle up again against a pretty physical team who with a player like Jonny Sexton in their ranks can play a couple of different games.
"We know last weekend won't mean anything if we don't perform this weekend against Racing."
Certainly, there has been a feeling at Parc y Scarlets this week that they don't want to be seen as one-hit wonders in this competition.
"We feel we are good enough to make progress," said back-rower Aaron Shingler, the outstanding forward on display at The Stoop.
"Looking back, we haven't really been consistent enough to get big opportunities in competitions. Hopefully this year we can move forward and get bigger games that mean a lot to us.
"You don't get that many opportunities as a player and you know if you lose your first two games in the Heineken Cup your dream of winning your club's best trophy is gone for another year.
"That is why last week's win at Harlequins was massive for us. If we had lost we would be under a lot of pressure going into this game with a lot less confidence than we have now.
"There was a good atmosphere after the game, but on the bus coming home it was quite quiet; we weren't over-celebrating or anything because we know if we lose this week, that win counts for nothing."