Playmaker Charlie Savala backed to make the step up for Edinburgh and Scotland

In the absence of a clutch of marquee players, Mike Blair will thrust Charlie Savala into the frontline for his European debut when Edinburgh take on Saracens in Barnet on Saturday afternoon.

Charlie Savala will make his first competitive start of the season for Edinburgh against Saracens. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Charlie Savala will make his first competitive start of the season for Edinburgh against Saracens. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

The Scottish-qualified Aussie stand-off will be making his first start of the season as the visitors look to spring a surprise in their Challenge Cup opener at the Stonex Stadium.

Blair Kinghorn is still recovering from a head knock sustained in last weekend’s win over Dragons so Savala takes the No 10 jersey after impressing as a second-half substitute against the Welsh side.

Blair, who is also without Jamie Ritchie and Darcy Graham – both crocked in training this week – and Viliame Mata and Damien Hoyland, who sustained knee injuries last weekend, believes Savala is a burgeoning talent even if he is short on experience.

Edinburgh's Jamie Ritchie was injured in training. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

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“Playmaker is a really good way of describing Charlie,” said the Edinburgh coach. “When I first came in, watching him playing in condition games when he had to make lots of decisions, I thought he was exceptional. One of the best in the squad at that.

“We have been frustrated that we have not been able to give him a huge amount of game-time but he has started picking up bits and bobs recently.

“He has started to understand the game management side of things and the role the ten has in arranging the forwards around him in terms of putting the team in the right position. Instinctively he has a very good attacking game and is very good at decision making at the line.

“He is a running threat as well and we believe the time is right to give him the opportunity to learn from training and the bits of game time he has had.”

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Jaco van der Walt has recovered from a shoulder injury and will provide cover from the bench but the selection of Savala is a bold move by Blair who believes the 21-year-old has the qualities to step up to international rugby. The former rugby league player trained with Scotland ahead of the Autumn Tests

“He has certainly got the potential to play for Scotland,” said Blair. “He is young, he has not had a lot of pro team games, he has not had a huge amount of games full stop, but he has the potential to be an international quality player.”

Savala will be up against Manu Vunipola, also 21 but with a good deal more experience. The Edinburgh stand-off started two games last season and has come off the bench three times in this campaign but that is the sum of his game-time since moving to Scotland in October 2020.

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Blair’s squad is being tested to the full and the coach reckons he will be without Mata for “months rather than weeks” after the No 8 damaged his knee against Dragons. Hoyland’s injury is less serious but still a concern.

Ritchie is missing after falling awkwardly on his hand while Graham also sustained a bang in training.

Saracens, like Edinburgh, are second in the their league and will have a couple of familiar faces in their ranks this afternoon. Callum Hunter-Hill, who had spells at both Glasgow and Edinburgh, starts at lock while former Scotland international Tim Swinson is on the bench.

Saracens v Edinburgh, Challenge Cup, Stonex Stadium, Saturday, 3.15pm

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Saracens: 15. Alex Goode (c); 14. Alex Lewington, 13. Elliot Daly, 12. Alex Lozowski, 11. Max Malins; 10. Manu Vunipola, 9 Ivan van Zyl; 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Kapeli Pifeleti, 3. Alec Clarey, 4. Nick Isiekwe, 5. Callum Hunter-Hill, 6. Andrew Christie, 7. Ben Earl, 8. Billy Vunipola.

Subs: 16. Ethan Lewis, 17. Eroni Mawi, 18. Harvey Beaton, 19. Tim Swinson, 20. Jackson Wray, 21. Aled Davies, 22. Nick Tompkins, 23. Elliott Obatoyinbo.

Edinburgh: 15. Emiliano Boffelli; 14. Jack Blain, 13. Mark Bennett, 12. James Lang, 11. Ramiro Moyano; 10. Charlie Savala, 9. Ben Vellacott; 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. Stuart McInally, 3. WP Nel, 4. Marshall Sykes, 5. Grant Gilchrist (c), 6. Luke Crosbie, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Nick Haining.

Subs: 16. David Cherry, 17. Boan Venter, 18. Lee-Roy Atalifo, 19. Jamie Hodgson, 20. Magnus Bradbury, 21. Henry Pyrgos, 22. Jaco van der Walt, 23. Cammy Hutchison.

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Referee: Tual Trainini (France).

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