INTERVIEW | Jamie Bhatti

“Nothing’s really changed except I play rugby and I’m on the TV sometimes. I’ve never been approached in public or anything like that. It’s just my job.”

It’s fair to say that Jamie Bhatti has his feet firmly on the ground. Despite going from BT Premiership side Melrose to Glasgow Warriors and the Scotland team in the space of 18 months, life as he knows it remains much the same.

While the loosehead prop isn’t yet getting asked for autographs in the street, he’s certainly enjoying the direction his career has taken.

“I signed my pro contract, have played the majority of games for Glasgow then got involved with Scotland and played in the Autumn Tests and now the NatWest 6 Nations.

“It’s all come around quite fast and all at once. But I love it.”

The 25-year-old hasn’t been shy in maximising the opportunities that have come his way. When several of Scotland’s props, including Al Dickinson, Allan Dell and Gordon Reid were ruled out of the Autumn Tests, the door opened for Bhatti to make his mark. He wore the Scotland jersey for the first time in the opening November fixture against Samoa, coming off the bench, and went on to play in the New Zealand and Australia games that followed.

It was a really special day,” he said, of his debut.

I’ve always said that any cap is brilliant, but you never forget your first cap.

Getting the opportunity to play for your country is everything I’d worked hard for.”

The road that led to that cap began at Hillfoot Minis, where Bhatti started his youth rugby before moving on to Stirling County where he came through the age grades of midi and colts and then the senior side.

“I was primary three when I first went to Hillfoots Rugby Club in Tillicoultry,” he said.

“Some boys in my class asked me to go along and that was it. I turned up and I’ve been playing rugby ever since.”

Bhatti then moved to play for Melrose and was named as part of the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy ahead of the 2016/17 season. He says it was a valuable experience, helping him to take the next steps into a professional career.

“Having that transition of going from club level to the Academy set-up for a year was important because even when I was in the Academy I was integrated into the pro-team (Glasgow Warriors) quite a lot.

“During the 2016 Autumn Tests when the props were away I was in training with Glasgow and I played several games with them.

“I don’t think I could have performed as well if I hadn’t been at the Academy.”

Bhatti made his Warriors debut against Canada ‘A’ in Stirling and his competitive debut came later that year against the Scarlets. He went on to sign a full-time contract with the team for the 2017/18 season and he hasn’t looked back since.

He says that one thing that has changed since going professional is his training regime.

“When I was at Melrose, you could train Tuesday, Thursday, play on a Saturday and you’d be fine,” he said.

“At the Scotland camp or at Glasgow Warriors you’re training hard and the physicality and intensity of the games is a lot higher.

“You need to take care of yourself and the small things count, like stretching and taking your fish oils.”

While he’s loving every moment of playing rugby for Glasgow and Scotland, there was a time when it looked like it might never happen. By the age of 17 Bhatti was working in an abattoir in Bridge of Allan as well as putting in shifts as a doorman at nightclubs in Falkirk and Stirling. At one stage he applied to join the poIice, but didn’t get past the interview stage. How hard was it to hold on to the dream of playing professional rugby?

“It was tough sometimes and I thought that it had passed me by,” he said.

“When I went to Melrose that was kind of my last- ditch effort to try and get into it.

“I thought I’m going to go to Melrose, I’m going to try and if nothing ever comes of it I’ll find myself a job somewhere else, but luckily it’s happened for me.”

Some of his opportunities have come through other players being injured and he says that is a harsh but inevitable aspect of professional rugby.

“People get injured, and other people get their opportunities and make the most of it,” he said.

“At Glasgow, Oli Kebble got injured and Alex Allan had an injury and the start of the season as well, so I was the only loosehead that was fit and I took my opportunity and I’ve played the majority of games this season for Glasgow.

“It’s a horrible thing but it is part and parcel of the game.”

With seven caps under his belt, including four appearances off the bench in this year’s NatWest 6 Nations, Bhatti says that he is continually looking to improve and despite often being referred to as being ‘young for a prop’, he believes that experience is more important than age.

“Playing a lot and gaining experience is what’s helped me personally,” he said.

“When you’re playing and training a lot you pick up the small things in terms of technique and that includes what the props I’m playing against are doing.”

Bhatti is proud of his roots and after the Autumn Tests he went back to Hillfoots Minis to talk to the kids and encourage them to keep on trying to find success in whatever it is they enjoy, no matter what setbacks they might encounter.

“It was good to go back, and there are still boys there that I was in the minis with who are playing for the first XV now,” he said.

“It’s good for the club to be able to say they’ve had somebody that’s came through and gone on to play for their country,

“I’d always said that when I got my Scotland jersey I’d give it back to the club where I first picked up the ball and it meant a lot to me to do that.”