As you all may have noticed, it’s been a funny last few months. “Unprecedented”, many have called it on many an occasion, and the rugby fixture landscape has been no different. We’ve had the Pro14’s 19/20 season’s still being finished while the French Top 14 had started their 20/21 campaign. Fixtures have been cancelled and rearranged, only to be cancelled again. Due to travel restrictions, Glasgow and Edinburgh will have faced off in a quarter of all the games they’ve been able to play since rugby restarted at the end of August 2020.
For the experienced and proven players the end of the finishing line at the end of a gruelling crossover campaign must be a welcome sight, however those who have only made their breakthrough or are returning from injury are on the other end of that particular spectrum.
“I think I’m one of the few who is gutted that the season is coming to an end!” said Glasgow Warriors centre Stafford McDowall, returning to action after a frustrating spell on the sidelines.
Having made his debut in the 17/18 season, McDowall impressed enough in the following campaign to win the Young Warriors Player of the Year award and he continued to impress during 19/20, which placed him on the periphery of the Scotland squad, before the pandemic and then injury hit.
“I came in for the start of the season fit and strong and raring to go. I played the first two games against Connacht and Scarlets and then in that game I picked up a shoulder injury. The next game after that was Ulster so I gave the shoulder a few weeks to try to get better, and I thought it was better, but then against Ulster it went again which kept me out for a lengthier period.
“The longest I was out before that was six weeks, so this was the longest one by a mile. It’s the first time I’ve had a proper shoulder injury so the whole rehab process was all new to me. But all the boys have been good with me and we’ve been around the squad as much as possible. The S&C staff and the physios did all they could to keep you integrated.”
Against Edinburgh last week, the tall, powerful runner looked like he had hardly been away. One clean break in the first half nearly getting him to the whitewash. It was enough to impress head coach Danny Wilson:
“He hasn’t played for a long, long time. He got his chance at the weekend and went well, so I think it is important that we give guys like that more than one opportunity, so he’ll get an opportunity to go again.”
Someone that McDowall will likely see a lot of for tonight’s (15th May) match as he runs down his channel, will be Edinburgh’s young Aussie-born fly-half Charlie Savala.
The grandson of Ayrshire construction magnate David Savala (the family surname was originally spelt with a “Sawala” but was changed to save them from the Nazis during WWII) young Charlie has returned to his paternal roots’ shores.
“It is a massive change up for myself. My dad is from Ayr and i have strong family roots over here. It is awesome to see some of my family and make some of my family back home proud coming from a proud Scottish heritage. Going to a Scottish school in Australia it has been awesome.”
Ironically enough, it was the Coronavirus outbreak that means a run-out for Ayr when Savala was on holiday at age 9 would be his only rugby appearance on Scottish soil.
“I was playing rugby league with Sydney Roosters, and with Covid they told the young guys at the club ‘there is not much sport for you guys, you can go to work and train here part time’, so I was a bit up in the air over what i was going to do.
“I went down and played some footie down at my local club Eastern Suburbs rugby and it turns out there was a talent Scottish talent scout for Aussie kids at our games. I ended up playing ok in the games he saw and told me about the opportunities and off the back of that my agent kept in touch with Scottish rugby and had a couple of meetings with Jim Mallinder and it happened in three or four weeks.”
Moving from beside the sea in Sydney to the far more temperate climes of Edinburgh took a bit of adjusting to, and settling in at the new club was not helped by Pierre Schoeman accidentally breaking his cheek in training, but the fly-half exudes confidence and more laid-back than Jacob Rees-Mogg when he’s feeling particularly smug in the House of Commons.
Speaking of what the future holds for the starlet, Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill isn’t setting any goals for the starlet, but thinks he has a real prospect on his hands:
“He hasn’t played a lot of rugby union in the last two years. He has played a lot of rugby league, is just 21, and he has some real talent and ability. He would have started against Zebre if not for injury, so he is still learning the craft as a fly-half. He’s played it as a youngster but the majority of his rugby has been in league, which is slightly different. He has a good personality and is sharp with ball in hand. It’s good to see we have a Scottish qualified man who has a real spark.”
“To be able to come into the club, I have made some good friends here and it has been awesome to feel loved at the club and without them I don’t know what I would be doing as it is a weird time. It happened so quickly being in this environment with internationals and British and Irish lions now and add my bit of spark coming from a different code and a different country. I learn off these guys, coming in every day, wanting to get better. It’s awesome.”
If he can distil just one of his many uses of “awesome” and bottle it for rugby use, Edinburgh will sure have a player, and we may just see him and McDowall playing together in dark blue in the coming years.