Utility back is happy to take over centre stage
TOM Isaacs will find himself in form- idable company when he is thrust on to the centre stage of a West Walian derby tonight.
The Ospreys utility back starts at outside centre this evening, alongside Welsh international Andrew Bishop and up against Grand Slam winners Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies.
It is a stellar line-up for what should be a pivotal central battleground, and Isaacs may feel like a player with something to prove.
He will be the only centre on display tonight without a senior Wales cap to his name, though he has been unassumingly building himself a reputation as a go-to man at the Liberty Stadium.
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Used on the wing, at full-back and even scrum-half, Isaacs was signed by the reigning RaboDirect Pro12 champions in 2010 as a man to plug numerous gaps in their line-up, whatever the shape.
He proved to be more than a mere able deputy last season, making 21 appearances in what was a breakthrough, title-winning campaign for the former Wales Sevens player.
The 25-year-old has been rewarded with two starts so far this term and, as he moves from the wing to the heart of the action tonight, there is one opponent he is particularly excited about facing.
"I'll be in the centre up against Jonathan Davies," Isaacs says. "I'm really looking forward to that battle — he's a great player.
"He's very powerful, a good footballer and very quick, so it will be a good challenge.
"The international backs we have in Wales at the moment are big boys.
"We'll be up against two big, skilful centres in Scott Williams and Jonathan tonight.
"I'll have to watch them carefully, but it's important we concentrate on ourselves and what we want to try to do as a team.
"We'll have plans to deal with some of their players, but we can't worry too much about the Scarlets. We have to focus on our own game."
Isaacs will not reveal how the Ospreys plan to quell the considerable threats of the Scarlets' potent backline — an element of surprise will be pivotal to their hopes of thwarting George North, Rhys Priestland and others.
In Bishop, however, Isaacs has the ideal partner to disrupt the West Walians.
"I've played a few times with Bish and we seem to have a good partnership," Isaacs adds.
"Everyone's aware of Bish's defensive prowess, but we shouldn't forget he's a great attacker as well.
"Welsh derbies tend to be blood and thunder affairs, and we're looking forward to the physicality of it.
"There's a lot of good competition in the centre here, between Bish, Ashley Beck, Jonathan Spratt and myself."
Beck is missing tonight with a pelvic injury, and it is his absence which has opened the door for Isaacs to start at 13.
This will be the first time the Cardiff-born centre will have sampled a West Wales derby, and it is an occasion he cannot wait to sample.
"I'm massively looking forward to it," he says.
"I'm really looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere of a packed Parc y Scarlets.
"It's a passionate crowd down there and, as a player, that's something that gets you going.
"I played against the Scarlets when I was with the Dragons but I understand how big a rivalry they have with the Ospreys.
"It's something I've heard about a lot since being at the Ospreys, and I'm looking forward to being involved.
"A few of the Scarlets boys live near me, so there's been quite a bit of banter flying around.
"It's all been light-hearted but I'm sure that will all change when we're on the pitch tonight."
The contrast between the sides this season could hardly be greater.
While the Scarlets have soared to the top of the Pro12 table with three wins from three, the Ospreys are second from bottom with three successive defeats.
"The Scarlets have started very well with three wins from three and they've been playing some good stuff, both up front and behind the scrum," Isaacs says.
"We're not in the best of form but we've been working hard in training to put right what we've been doing wrong in the first few matches.
"We are trying not to dwell too much on what's happened.
"Although we lost a lot of players over the summer, we still have the same core of players who won us the league.
"I think the main thing we have to do is to cut out the basic errors. We're making handling errors and dropping off tackles. Those are the main things we need to put right."