Edinburgh's big call at no.10 explained with eight Scottish internationals on the bench for URC season opener

Charlie Savala – the Australian born and raised 22-year-old who qualifies to play for Scotland through his father from Ayr – has been given a golden opportunity to establish himself in the pro game after being handed the Edinburgh No 10 jersey for their URC campaign opener against the Dragons at the DAM Health Stadium tonight.

His selection in the pivotal stand-off slot means that Jaco van der Walt doesn’t even make the match-day squad, while current first choice stand-off Blair Kinghorn – who toured Argentina with Scotland during the summer and therefore joined pre-season later – is on the bench.

Savala has been on the books at Edinburgh since October 2020, but this will be only his fourth start for the club.

“We really like Charlie,” said Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair. “We believe he has the skillset to help our attack, the vision and variety of pass. We also see huge upsides in his defence because he is a big unit, he's brave and he loves front-line defence.

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“Obviously, we have Blair coming back as well, so it was a difficult decision, but I think Charlie is at the stage of his career to get this opportunity and show what he can do from the start.

“I think history would suggest Blair is our first choice stand-off, but I think with some of the selections last year we showed that if guys like Charlie do well then we want to give them opportunities,” Blair added.

“It is great the way he has trained and the confidence he has shown to step up and do a job with some experienced players around him as well.”

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Charlie Savala has been handed a start at no.10 for Edinburgh's URC season opener against Dragons. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

Meanwhile, in the pack, Edinburgh are boosted by Fijian talisman Viliame Mata coming in at No.8 for his first start since injuring his knee nine months ago.

“He’s real x-factor,” acknowledged Blair. “We’ve got lots of hardworking players around him, we’ve got players with huge skill around him as well, but us having Bill will concern the opposition because of his unpredictability, his skillset and his athleticism.

“We were really pleased with how he went in last week’s preseason match versus Treviso when he came on for that last 30 minutes. He got his hands on ball and looked really athletic. Sometimes when you’ve had a long injury it can take a bit of time to get back into it, but we thought Bill really hit the ground running.”

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Blair has named an impressive bench consisting of eight experienced Scotland internationals, including the likes of Stuart McInally, Pierre Schoeman, new signing Sam Skinner and Kinghorn.

“We have certain ties to some [international] players about when you can use them and when you can't use them, so we have to manage that,” explained Blair. “We also want to get the balance right between the guys who have done the whole pre-season and done well and taken their opportunities, but also be mindful that when we have our international players available, they are very important to us.

“I told the squad today that it is a great position to be in, but it is a difficult job to make sure that guys are getting opportunities to play rugby. This is the way we have decided to deal with this one – to have some impact off the bench. A fair number of those players haven't had any rugby yet this season, but they should be ready to go.”

Edinburgh (v Dragons at The Dam Health Stadium, Saturday at 7.35pm): H Immelman; D Graham, M Bennett, C Dean, D Hoyland; C Savala, B Vellacott; B Venter, D Cherry, A Williams, M Sykes, G Young, J Ritchie©, L Crosbie, V Mata. Replacements: S McInally, P Schoeman, W Nel, S Skinner, N Haining, H Pyrgos, B Kinghorn, J Lang.

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Dragons: A O’Brien; R Dyer, S Tomkinson, J Dixon, J Rosser; J Hanrahan, R Williams; A Seiuli, B Roberts, L Fairbrother, B Carter, W Rowlands ©, S Lonsdale, B Fry, R Moriarty. Replacements: E Dee, J Reynolds, C Coleman, J Davies, T Basham, L Jones, W Reed, J Williams.

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