Brian Dick on the conspicuous presence of Bristol's scrum-half with a local past...
If Bristol's assured start to their Premiership campaign has surprised a few people, then to those who don't know him the performances of Shaun Perry have been greeted with utter astonishment.
Like Worcester the year before, the men from the Memorial Ground were tipped to make an immediate and inglorious return to the darkness of National League rugby, yet - much as tonight's opponents did - they have knocked some rather illustrious noses askew.
Bristol are eighth in the table and a few establishment hearts are again aflutter. Perry has been instrumental in that process.
From the moment, just minutes into the first match of the season, he scampered the length of the pitch to haul down Bath winger Frikkie Welsh, the former Coventry and Dudley Kingswinford man has been conspicuous by his presence. He followed an impressive top-flight debut with a tryscoring display in the twopoint win at Newcastle.
With their 100 per cent record Bristol were top and the words Perry and England were appearing in close proximity in newspapers, on message boards and across clubhouse tables.
Then Perry pulled his hamstring against Gloucester and missed a month. Jake Rauluni took his place but head coach Richard Hill has high hopes for his prot>g> and immediately restored him to the No 9 shirt for the Saracens match. Although that was lost Perry was to the fore once more last week as Bristol demolished Tykes 32-6.
Although the 27-year-old attributes the victory to his forwards it was impossible to ignore the comparison at scrum-half. Shaun Perry - an ex-welder with a couple of months of fulltime rugby behind him - against Justin Marshall, an All Black legend.
Perry won on points with a delightful 30-metre pass that allowed wing David Lemi to score and just shaded the competition in his favour.
Tonight his opponent will be England international Andy Gomarsall. The transformation could not be any more rapid. "These last two years have been like a whirlwind," Perry said. "I was playing in National Three North with Dudley, got a couple of years at Coventry and here I am playing against guys like that. Just playing against Justin Marshall was surreal. In the summer I was watching him on television. It was difficult not to be in awe of him at the start."
Not that anyone could tell.
If Perry is being talked about in connection with a Red Rose call-up it seems logical to assume that his clash with Worcester scrum- half Gomarsall will be an important yardstick.
Perry still lives in Stourbridge but shares a flat in Bristol with fellow new boy Dan Ward Smith during the week. The criticism of him at Heathbrook was that he was a home- boy and lacked ambition.
Apparently nothing could be further form the truth, he doesn't want to talk about England because his focus is somewhere else other than his Black Country base.
He said: "I just want to establish myself in the first team at Bristol. I don't regret staying so long at DK because without the publicity I got there Coventry and then Richard Hill might never have heard of me."