Charlie Savala grew up bouncing around the beaches of Sydney, Australia, so you can imagine that arriving in Edinburgh last October – in the middle of lockdown – was a major shock to the system.

Fortunately, the 21-year-old stand-off had some idea of what he was getting himself into thanks to his Scottish heritage which had been a prominent feature in his Australian upbringing.

“My dad, Scott, grew up in Ayr, he is Scottish and played football, rugby, everything, before he moved out to Oz when he was 19, but he still has a thick Scottish accent,” he explains.

“He has always been a massive Scottish heritage fan and we learned the bagpipes at school,” he adds.

“I was lucky enough to go to the Scots College in Sydney and played a couple of years of 1st XV under Brian Smith, who was coach at London Irish and attack coach with England. We used to walk out to Scotland the Brave, wear kilts to the games, and sing Flower of Scotland when we won.”

Savala even had previous experience of playing rugby in Scotland after making an appearance for Ayr minis during a family holiday several years ago. “Some family friends asked if I played rugby because they were short that week, so I went down with my younger brothers and we all got a game,” he explains. “It was pretty cool. I have the pink and black jersey in my room back home, so it is cool to come back and see it all again.”

This Scottish background certainly helped Savala during his early days with Edinburgh, when opportunities to socialise with his new team-mates were minimal, and game time was non-existent. The whole switch from Australia to Scotland happened in a blur, and it has not been an easy transition, but he is now feeling like he belongs.

“I grew up by the beach, by the sea and the social part of my life has been huge, so to make the switch so quickly … it took a couple of months for it to sink in with me,” he explains. “Then Pierre [Schoeman] broke my cheekbone [during training] a couple of weeks in so it made the transition a little bit harder. “But I have now made some good friends here and it has been awesome to feel loved at the club. Without that, I don’t know what I would be doing, because it is a weird time. “It is hard when I look on my phone and see what is going on back home because I’m jealous in a way, but to come into training and work hard to get better every day has been awesome. “We usually have team socials to get out and about but with Covid we haven’t been able to do that. Luckily, I’m a massive ping-pong player, so I try and hang about the table [in the team room] for as long as I can. That has been great for me and it feels like a family now.”

Not only has Savala been adjusting to a new, covid-constrained environment, he has also been transitioning back to rugby union after playing most of his adult rugby with the Sydney Roosters. When Covid hit Australia, the young players were all released, and he ended up turning out for his local union team, Eastern Suburbs, which is where he came onto the radar of Scottish Rugby’s worldwide scouting network.

After a couple of conversations between his agent and Scottish Rugby’s Director of Performance Rugby Jim Mallinder, Savala found himself on a plane to Edinburgh less than a month later.

“I always played rugby union as a kid but then there was that two years in league and having to transition back has been quite smooth, actually,” he admits. “Sitting down with Blair Kinghorn and Jaco van der Walt to get an understanding of players and games has been awesome, so that really helped with my transition.

“The big difference between league and union is picking the right time to run with the ball,” he adds. “There’s big blokes in union like Bill Mata and Pierre Schoeman so you have to be careful about that. You also have to be able to manage the game in terms of kicking points and creating pressure on the scoreboard and keeping hold of the ball and creating the pressure on the pitch.”

After recovering from that facial injury, he looked comfortable in his debut against Cardiff Blues back in March but tweaked his hamstring and hasn’t appeared since.

That is likely to change this weekend, with Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill making it clear that Savala will be involved as either a starter or on the bench against Edinburgh this Saturday night.

“He hasn’t played a lot of rugby union in the last two years, but he is just 21 and has some real talent and ability,” said the coach. “He is still learning the craft as a fly-half, but has a good personality, is sharp with ball in hand, and he is a typical Australian in that he is very confident in himself. “It is good to see we have a Scottish qualified player who has a real spark about his personality. He will be involved at the weekend because we want to see him play again.”