Sport

Scotland calling for prop idol Bhatti

by Craig Wright

Jamie Bhatti has come a long way.

From almost walking away from the game for good, the Stirling native is enjoying a purple patch in his rugby career to date, having been named in his first senior Scotland squad ahead of this month’s internationals. It was a slightly surreal experience for Bhatti, however, as the prop explained:

“The squad was announced on the Tuesday, and we got our emails on the Monday night” said Bhatti.

“I was actually in the cinema and had no signal on my phone, so I came outside and it popped up on my phone. It was Gav Scott, the Scotland team manager, saying congratulations on being named in the squad. I just thought ‘jeez’ – I was chuffed!”

It caps a meteoric rise through the ranks for the 24-year-old, who made his professional debut for Glasgow Warriors just over a year ago. However, it’s been far from a smooth ride to the top for Bhatti. Despite holding ambitions to represent his country from his earliest steps on the pitch at Hillfoots RFC, he found his career stalling during his time at Stirling County.

A fresh-faced Bhatti during his Stirling County days. Credit: Stirling County RFC

He said: “Growing up playing rugby, everyone wants to play for Scotland.

“You go to games when you’re at school and you think ‘I’d love to play for Scotland’. Then you get into senior rugby – I mean, when I was at County, I wasn’t really pushing on in the way I’d like. I wasn’t in the academies or anything, and it’s only been in the last couple of years that I started moving forward.

“I’d sort of moved away from wanting to be a professional when I was at County, to be honest. I thought I’d reached the end of my tether with it.”

Indeed, so high was the extent to which Bhatti was prepared to turn his back on the sport, he had already sized up alternative options to his professional sporting ambitions.

“I’d applied for the police and I was working in Bridge of Allan, so I was looking for other careers” explained Bhatti.

“I failed the police, mind – I passed the fitness test and the written exam, but the interview went to pot!

“It’s probably for the best though, because if I’d have got into the police, I’d probably have walked away from the sport.”

That interview mishap proved to be a blessing in disguise for the young Bhatti, with a move to Melrose the catalyst for being picked up by the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy and the Warriors for the 2016/17 season. His rapid rise through the ranks has continued into this campaign, establishing himself as the first-choice loosehead prop at the club in the opening rounds of the Guinness PRO14. Despite this, however, Bhatti remains grounded.

He said: “I’d been at the club for the full pre-season, so it definitely helped to have that under my belt.

“You train together, so it really helps the squad gel. I think being given the opportunity in the two pre-season games (including turning out against Northampton Saints at Stirling County’s Bridgehaugh ground) really helped, but it’s just been one of those things where it all came good at the same time.

Wearing the colours with pride. Credit: Scottish Rugby

“I think I’ve done alright when given the opportunity – I wouldn’t say I’ve been outstanding every week, and if big Oli Kebble (Glasgow’s new signing for this season) had been fit, I think he’d have started his fair share of matches.”

Bhatti has more than made the most of his opportunity, however. One of 19 Warriors named in Gregor Townsend’s Scotland squad, his first international call-up is just reward for his part in Glasgow’s unbeaten start to the domestic campaign. Having familiar faces in the playing group is something the prop clearly values, and with good reason.

“As a front-row, with guys like George [Turner] and Zander [Fagerson] there as well, it’s great to have guys you work with week in, week out there” said Bhatti.

“You know how each other work – both individually and as a unit. You’re comfy at scrum time and it’s a great environment to be in.”

With attention now turning to the international arena, Scottish rugby supporters will turn out in their thousands to support their side at BT Murrayfield in the coming weeks. For Bhatti, though, it’s an old sporting cliché that will be guiding him through the next month.

“You take every week as it comes” said Bhatti.

“Hopefully I’ll put my hand up, do what I do and get a cap or two somewhere along the way.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Brig. Bhatti made his international debut against Samoa on November 11.

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