WHOEVER becomes Scotland’s first-choice loosehead prop at the start of the Six Nations Championship will be Glasgow or Edinburgh’s second choice. It is not an ideal position for the national team to be in, but given the form South Africans Oli Kebble and Pierre Schoeman have been in at club level, it is wholly understandable.
Jamie Bhatti, for one, is not complaining. He and Alex Allan have been competing for a place on the bench with the Warriors, and are joined in the Scotland squad by Allan Dell, who has become Schoeman’s understudy at Edinburgh. Having, by his own admission, started the season poorly, Bhatti was surprised to be named by Gregor Townsend in the squad, but now that he is in it, he is simply determined to take his chance.
“We’re all – me, Alex and Allan – in kind of the same boat,” the 25-year-old said after the first Scotland training session of the year at Riccarton. “We’ve been sitting on the bench, not playing as much. I just want to train as well as I can here and show the coaches that I’m ready to go.
“It has been frustrating. Every player wants to play as much as they can. Sometimes it just comes down to the fact you’re not getting selected, so you need to ask the questions why that’s happening and work on those things. It is definitely frustrating, but I’m happy to be back involved here. If I’m given a chance to play then hopefully I can put my hand up again and show why I’m here. If I’m released back to Glasgow to play at club level then I’ll do the same.”
Fighting for form
Bhatti has won 11 caps in all since making his debut against Samoa in the 2017 Autumn Tests, but was not included in the squad for this season’s games against Wales, Fiji, South Africa and Argentina. The reason? “Poor form at the start of the season. I can say any time I’ve played since then, I’ve played well. Poor form at the start of the season – but I’ve been working on that.”
Of course, knowing you are playing poorly is one thing, knowing why you are doing so is quite another. Perhaps, after playing so well in the previous season, Bhatti was bound to suffer a fall in standards to some extent, and perhaps his inability to force his way back into the Warriors starting line-up compounded the problem.
“It’s a hard one,” he admitted when asked why his form had declined. “It just comes down to a few mistakes. I had one bad game across at the Kings and from then on I just dropped out of the team and had to try to fight my way back in.
“I’m quite confident that any time I’ve played since then I’ve played well. I think that’s why I’m here. All I can focus on is getting back to the best form I can be, whether that’s playing for Glasgow or getting an opportunity here.
“I know I can do it. The Autumn Tests and the Six Nations last season, I played every game and I think I played well. If given the opportunity, I just want to put my hand up and show that I’m back and ready to play.”