JAMIE Bhatti has admitted that the final few weeks of last season were “bittersweet”, as he played in the biggest matches of his Glasgow Warriors career after having been deemed surplus to requirements and allowed to leave for Edinburgh.
The loosehead prop has liked what he has heard from new boss Richard Cockerill, and at 25 is confident that he has a lot to offer the capital club. But, speaking at a Scotland squad press conference at Oriam on the outskirts of Edinburgh, he made it clear that ideally he would have stayed with Glasgow, the team he joined straight from the amateur ranks in 2016.
“Obviously I’m happy to be here and happy to be given the opportunity to play rugby for another two years, but it’s bittersweet with the way I ended the season with Glasgow, obviously starting the [PRO14] semi and the final,” Bhatti said. “I would love to have stayed on and played [for Glasgow], but this is the way rugby is at times.
“When I was looking for a contract around Six Nations time, negotiations and stuff, they didn’t want to sign me. They didn’t want me at that point and they’d signed Oli [Kebble] and Alex [Allan].
“At the time I asked Dave Rennie if he wanted to keep me and I couldn’t get an answer, so Edinburgh came in and that was it. I wasn’t going to wait for an offer from Glasgow and hang on because I could have got injured in training or in a game and then . . . you’re injured.
“So then Edinburgh came in and I went and met with Richard and had a coffee and really liked what he had to say. It was just like a relaxed chat – what he was looking for and what I was looking for and I really liked what he had to say.
“I think it’s a really good move for me going to Edinburgh given his experience as a front-row player too. I think that will really help me going forward. It was a lot of scrums and mauls, working hard – that was all the chat.”
With Pierre Schoeman in firm possession of the Edinburgh No 1 jersey after a highly impressive debut season, Bhatti knows he will have to fight hard for a starting place in Cockerill’s side. But, with Allan Dell having left for London Irish, he should at least feature regularly in the matchday squad provided he keeps up the form he showed in April and May.
“I’m confident coming in [to Edinburgh] given the last few weeks of the season,” Bhatti continued. “I was given a shot and I took it. It was good to get back and get that opportunity to play again.”
It was a shot that, for a time, he feared he might not be offered. Deemed good enough to feature in the Scotland squad for the Six Nations, he was out of favour at Scotstoun. Lack of game time with the Warriors then affected Bhatti’s chances of being selected for the national side, but then Rennie decided he still had a role to play after all in what turned out to be his last handful of games in Glasgow colours.
“It was just a tough time, being at Glasgow and not playing much and going into the Six Nations. Gregor picked me for that and I missed out on a couple of selections for the Test matches. But I was coming back from the Scotland camp and I wasn’t getting picked for my club. It wasn’t a low but you were wondering what else can you do. You learn though.
“When I got back from the Six Nations I spoke to Dave and said ‘Look, where my head is at the moment, can I get a bit of time away from rugby, a week or something? I know you know I’ve signed for Edinburgh, but I’m not wanting that to affect me, I’m still a Warriors player and if you want to play me I’ll give it my all until the end of the season’.
“He said ‘Nah, you’ll be involved against the Cheetahs this week’. So I played then, and then found a bit more form against Saracens [in the Champions Cup] the week after and ended the season as I did.
“I played well against Ulster and got the nod against Leinster when we got the win across there. Started against Edinburgh, then the semi-final and the final – I was playing some of my best rugby in those games. That came at a good time to get selected for the camp here in a bit of form.”