THERE can be few better ways of preparing for life in the front row of a rugby team than the one chosen by Jamie Bhatti – hauling carcasses around the slaughterhouse in Bridge of Allan. That was a key part of the working day for the Glasgow Warriors prop until a couple of years ago, and it surely explains in part why he has managed to adjust so quickly to life as a professional athlete.
Now 24, the man from Sauchie came up through the ranks at Stirling County, then moved to Melrose the season before last. He was still at the Greenyards five months ago when Glasgow came calling with the offer of a professional contract, and he has not looked back since, playing in every game thus far for the Warriors.
Ask Bhatti why he has had such a good run in the team and he will tell you that the injury to Oli Kebble has played a part. Of course it has, but Glasgow coach Dave Rennie has more than one option at loosehead, and he would not hesitate to give someone else a go if he thought Bhatti did not deserve his place in the starting line-up.
“I’ve played every game so far,” the forward said. “Only five months into my first pro contract, but it’s brilliant. I’m happy to be playing these games and putting my hand up for selection.
“I’ll just keep pushing on. I wasn’t expecting it, I don’t think anyone was expecting it. There’s been injuries, but I’ve kept myself fit and pushing on. Keep plodding on. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been playing spectacular rugby – I’ve just been doing the best I can.
“I played six games last year during international windows. The first game was Scarlets away and we got a horsing in that game, can’t mind the score but I thought to myself this is bit different to running out at Melrose on a Saturday. But it’s like anything – the more you play the most you get used to it.
“You don’t really get time to sit back and think `I’ve played ten games of pro rugby in a row’. I think I’m coping well with it. Even during pre-season, I was here for the full thing when the Scotland boys were away on tour and you know you want to push on and get the first games in the season under you belt. I’ll play every game if I’m allowed to!”
He certainly wants to play in the next game, the Champions Cup match against Leinster on Saturday that could go a long way to defining his team’s season. After losing to Exeter in the first pool game, Glasgow have no room left for error, and Bhatti knows they have to tighten up some aspects of their play for the visit of the Irish team.
“Definitely,” he replied when asked if this could be the biggest game of the season for his team. “It’ll be a tough one. I’ve never played Leinster myself, so we’ve been watching them. Last week against Montpellier they were really good, but we have home advantage that will help us.
“We need to execute our game plan better. We were put under a lot of pressure up front and gave away too many penalties, which let Exeter in the game. If we keep ball, don’t give away penalties and execute, that should do the job.
“That was my first European game. Compared to the PRO14 it’s massive. Exeter are the best team in England and won it last year; they did well in Europe last year as well. The physicality was right up there with anything I’ve faced, but you’ve just got to front up. It’ll the same with the other two teams in the group. Leinster are a physical team with a few Lions boys in there as well, so it’ll be a test this week.
“We’re at home and we want to win here. Definitely it’s a must win.”