AUSTRALIAN-born stand-off Charlie Savala enjoyed giving South African-born prop Pierre Schoeman a bit of stick at Edinburgh training after his homeland secured a famous victory over the Lions-conquering world champions in the Rugby Championship on Saturday.
Both men have set their sights on representing Scotland in the future, but that doesn’t mean they have forgotten all about where they have come from.
For Savala, the fact that it was childhood hero Quade Cooper who stole the show made the result all the sweeter. The 32-year-old marked his return to the Wallabies set-up for the first time in three years by orchestrating a tactical kicking masterclass, and by registering 23 of his team’s 28 points from the tee including an injury-time 45-yard penalty to clinch the win.
“I was giving it to Schoey this morning, it was good!” chuckled the 21-year-old, when asked if there had been any niggle in the Edinburgh camp between the Australian contingent [which also includes Ben Toolis and Nick Haining] and their South African team-mates [including Schoeman, WP Nel, Boan Venter, Luan de Bruin, Jaco van der Walt, Henry Immelman and Jordan Venter] following the weekend’s shock result.
“It’s good to see Quade back doing well,” Savala added. “He’s always been an idol of mine, I always loved watching him play as a kid and I like to base my game on the way he plays.”
Edinburgh fans will be delighted if Savala manages to emulate some of that famous Cooper magic which put the Springboks to the sword during the coming season, and they will be even more excited if he can capture the spitit of another role-model from closer to home who has shaped his game in recent seasons.
“I do love the way Finn Russell plays – he’s been the man I’ve looked up to the last couple of years,” continued Savala. “Going back, it would have been Quade Cooper, but moving over here: Finn’s the man.
“I definitely do look at the way other players go at the game, their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s about what I bring to the table as well – so I like to mould it a bit by looking at what other people do but at the same time focus on what I can do.
“And I’ve always loved to play with a bit of attacking flair, but it’s also about knowing the right times to play and the right times to be structured, so that you have that balance in your game.”
A combination of injuries and previous head coach Richard Cockerill’s conservative approach meant Savala managed just two appearances for Edinburgh during his first season at the club.
However, with Mike Blair now in charge of the team, the capital outfit are expected to play a more expansive brand of rugby, which should suit Savala’s natural ebullience as he battles against the experienced van der Walt and fellow rookie Nathan Chamberlain for regular game-time in the Edinburgh No10 jersey during the months ahead.
“I had a little niggle in my leg which kept recurring last season, but I got myself right during the summer and feel like I have been smashing it in pre-season,” he explained. “I feel like I am in great condition going into this week and the start of the season”
“There is a few of us fighting for the position and it is good to have that healthy competition – it will be exciting to see who gets picked going forward.”
Savala had an early chance to lay down a marker when he came off the bench during last Saturday’s loss to Newcastle Falcons, which was Edinburgh’s first pre-season match of the campaign. While it didn’t quite go according to plan, he says he has been encouraged by the feedback he received from Blair.
“I think Mike puts a big emphasis on us as individuals using our strengths,” he said. “We have a structure in place, but he loves individuals being good at what they do.”
“I made a few errors at the weekend but the first thing he said to me on Monday was: ‘Mate, I love your intent, but let’s just choose the right options going forward’.
“It’s been great for me to have someone to back my skillset and back how I play. It gives me a lot of confidence going into my second season in professional rugby.”
Edinburgh play their second and final pre-season match against Benetton at their new ERS venue on the back pitches at Murrayfield this coming Saturday.
The Italians endured a torrid 2020-21 PRO14 campaign – with no wins, one draw and 15 losses from 16 matches played – but finished the season in style by winning the Rainbow Cup with a 35-8 demolition of the Vodocom Bulls in the final.