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JACKSON COLUMN: Parry breaks new ground for front-row club

Sam Parry did something in 39 minutes last week that no front row forward had done in 15 years since the creation of the Championship that we now call the Guinness PRO12.

Whether the Welshman’s hat-trick of tries is still standing out on its own in another 15 years remains to be seen but nobody ought to be surprised if it is.

Hookers, by and large, do not score tries in any profusion because the specialist nature of their trade demands that they attend to more important matters, as any of the breed will not be slow to point out.

As strike rates go, Parry’s was way down on his contemporaries, so far down as to be almost off the radar.

In 71 Guinness PRO12 matches before last week’s opening round, the 24-year-old Osprey had one try to show for the five seasons since his tournament debut, for the Dragons in January 2012, coincidentally against Ospreys whom he joined two years later.

Of current hookers, Sean Cronin leads the way with 17 in 124 outings for Leinster and Connacht. Rory Best has 14 from 124 matches for Ulster, T. Rhys Thomas scored 12 in 162 appearances for the Newport-Gwent Dragons and Cardiff Blues, Ken Owens scored 10 in 121 for the Scarlets, Kristian Dacey 10 in 71 for the Blues.

The rest are still in single figures: Richardt Strauss eight in 94 for Leinster, Mike Sherry eight in 74 for Munster, Ross Ford five in 172 for Edinburgh, Scott Baldwin four in 78 for Ospreys, Rob Herring three in 80 for Ulster, Davide Giazzon two in 58 for Treviso.

At Swansea last week, between the 7th and 46th minutes, Parry achieved more at Zebre’s expense than merely becoming the first Osprey forward to claim a hat-trick in the Guinness PRO12.

While the feat put him in the same company as Test wings like Shane Williams, Tommy Bowe and Nikki Walker, it also propelled him into a front row league all by himself.

Only one other tight forward had ever scored a hat-trick of tries, the redoubtable Fijian lock Leone Nakarawa for the Warriors at Scotstoun last April when Zebre again took it on the chin. Parry’s substitution after his third try means that nobody will ever know whether he would have been at the back driving another unstoppable maul.

A fourth would have equalled the Guinness PRO12’s record for the most in one match. Nobody has got that many since Jamie Robinson’s quartet for Cardiff Blues against Borders twelve years ago.

A native of Haverfordwest who reached the Ospreys via Llandovery and Newport in the Welsh Premiership, Parry put his threesome down to ‘a cracking forward effort.’  More of the same will be required in Galway on Saturday against a team hit by a mauling more severe than the one the Ospreys’ pack gave Zebre.

In finishing a distant second to the Warriors, Connacht conceded six tries – twice as many as in their last three matches of May put together, against the Warriors, twice, followed by Leinster in the Final.

Round Two features a super-heavyweight collision in Glasgow on Saturday afternoon between teams whose consistency at the highest level is beyond dispute. Even at this early stage, Warriors against Leinster will have a powerful influence on the final pecking order come next May.

In the seven seasons since the advent of the play-offs, Leinster have been to six finals and finished outside the top-four only once. Warriors have been to two finals, four semi-finals and they, too, have missed the play-offs on just the one occasion, in 2011.

Saturday also brings another landmark occasion in the rise and rise of the Glaswegians. Scotstoun’s surroundings will be familiar to Leinster but not the pitch. The new synthetic surface, as funded by Glasgow City Council, will banish the perennial winter prospect of the Warriors’ being bogged down in a morass of mud.

They are the second Guinness PRO12 club to install an all-weather pitch, following Cardiff Blues whose £400,000 plastic surface at the Arms Park has been in operation for the last three years. The Warriors believe theirs will make them still more formidable.

As head coach Gregor Townsend put it: “We aim to play high-tempo rugby and this state-of-the-art artificial surface will help us produce a faster game.’’

While Leinster cannot say they haven’t been warned about the new track, the same applies to the Warriors and the Irish province’s new Number 10, Joey Carbery.

The 20-year-old New Zealander has been living in Ireland from the age of 12 when his family made the long haul from Auckland to Athy, his mother’s hometown in Co. Kildare. Until last week the Clontarf playmaker’s PRO12 career had been limited to one appearance off the bench, against the Warriors six months ago.

Promoted in the absence of Johnny Sexton for his first start, Carbery played a match-winning hand against Benetton Treviso at the RDS, providing two of Leinster’s three tries. Two other players also scored on debut – Rob Lyttle for Ulster against the Dragons and Pat Howard for the Welsh region in the same match.

Round One having produced a glut of 34 tries, almost six per match, four teams are on course for the ultimate flying start of back-to-back try bonus wins. Nobody managed it last season but Warriors, Ospreys, Ulster and Cardiff Blues are halfway there.

Of the quartet, only Glasgow’s finest have home advantage. The other three are all overseas – Ospreys and Cardiff Blues in Ireland at Connacht and Munster respectively, Ulster in Italy at Treviso.