IT wasn’t quite the triumphant return to Glasgow Warriors colours Jamie Bhatti was hoping for, but the loose-head prop insists that he and his team-mates have drawn confidence from their general performance against Ulster in last Friday night’s United Rugby Championship campaign opener, and stresses that they are capable of turning that narrow defeat into a morale-boosting win when they host the Sharks – one of four South African sides to join the league this season – at Scotstoun this coming Saturday afternoon.
“It was tough, we were really close, it was just a couple of mistakes,” he says, looking back at the 35-29 loss in Belfast. “These mistakes happen, it’s the game we play, a couple of knock-ons and… you never want to blame the referee, do you?
“In the last 10 minutes, we knocked on and didn’t get anything from the scrum, and that’s the game. So, we need to be better at that, just tidy up what we can. We are confident, our review was very positive. We will hopefully give a good account of ourselves on Saturday afternoon.
“They [the Sharks] are renowned for having good forwards and big ball-carriers. But that’s good for us, [because] we have a big pack, we have a good scrum, good line-out and good drive. We back ourselves against anyone.”
Bhatti had spells working in an abattoir and as a nightclub door steward before being given a Scottish Rugby academy contract aligned to Glasgow Warriors in the summer of 2016 when he was 23 years old, giving him a real-life perspective which most of his sporting contemporaries could scarcely imagine.
That has come in handy during the last two-and-a-bit years, during which time he was first of all deemed surplus to requirements at Warriors despite being a Scotland regular, and then frozen out under Richard Cockerill at Edinburgh with only four starts to show from a season and a half in the capital.
Bhatti has since spoken about how the rejection and demoralising battle to make an arbitrary weight target built up to the point where he walked out of training mid-session and was reduced him to tears.
However, things started to look up when he was released by Edinburgh last December, allowing him to take up a short-term contract with Bath in the English Premiership, and he believes that was the perfect preparation for his return to the club where he started out on his professional career this summer.
“It [the English Premiership] is a very attritional league, the set-piece and stuff, it’s completely different,” he reflects. “Every game is like a derby. I played 10 times and I definitely developed my scrummaging working with the coaches down there.
“Playing against Harlequins and the top teams, it was good for me to get that experience and bring it back up here. A change of scenery as well is always good.”
Turning his attention back to Warriors, he adds: “I did a couple of ligaments in my ankle so it was a wee bit frustrating that I couldn’t get fully involved in the first week of pre-season, but I have obviously got back from that. It’s been good. It’s like I never left, same boys, same place. I have enjoyed it.
“It’s the same DNA – we want to play fast and the coaches who have come in have taken that to the next level, especially with the S&C stuff.
“I just want to play as much rugby as I can this season,” he continues. “It has been a tough couple of years, with leaving for Edinburgh and things not really working out there. But I am happy being back here, I am comfortable here, and the more I play the more confident I will get as well.
“I am just looking forward to getting back to enjoying my rugby and having fun with it again. I loved my time at Bath as well, but I am really enjoying being back at Glasgow. I will crack on with this season and see where I end up.”
Having turned 28 just over three weeks ago, it could be argued that Bhatti is only beginning to hit his peak as a prop, but he’s not looking any further ahead than the next match.
“Glasgow is home for me, so it would be easy for me to sit here and say I want to be here for the rest of my career, but, ultimately, that is not my decision,” he concludes. “I can’t offer myself a contract, although I wish I could. I love Glasgow and I love being back and I will do all I can to be the best version of myself again. We will see what happens.”
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