The 25-year-old loosehead has been shunted from Glasgow Warriors to Edinburgh, an “internal transfer” that was announced in March, and, while focusing on the positives, it’s clear the former Stirlingshire slaughterhouse worker has an axe to grind.
“Obviously I’m happy to be here [Edinburgh] and happy to be given the opportunity to play rugby for another two years, but it’s bittersweet,” admitted the Hillfoots RFC product who now has 13 Test caps to his name.
“With the way I ended the season with Glasgow, obviously starting the [Guinness Pro14] semi and the final, I would love to have stayed on and played [there] but this is the way rugby is at times.
“When I was looking for a contract around Six Nations time, negotiations and stuff… ach they didn’t want to sign me, they didn’t want me at that point and they’d signed Oli [Kebble] and Alex [Allan] so then Edinburgh came in and I went and met with Richard [Cockerill] and had a coffee and really liked what he had to say.”
Signed and sealed in word then but Bhatti still had a contracted season to see out at Scotstoun.
“When I got back from Six Nations I spoke to Dave [Rennie, the Glasgow head coach] 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 have 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…’
“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 Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final defeat in London] the week after and ended the season as I did.”
It will be former England hooker Cockerill, the Edinburgh head coach, rather than Rennie that Bhatti will be answering to next season, though hopefully once a World Cup slot has been sealed.
Bhatti has enjoyed a rapid rise from being fifth-choice loosehead at Glasgow to winning those 13 caps, albeit only one from the start, against the United States in Houston on last summer’s tour.
“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. Given the end of the season I’d had I wasn’t going to just wait for an offer from Glasgow and hang on because I could have got injured.”
On that chat with Cockerill, Bhatti said: “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!
“It’s good. I got the keys to my flat the week of the semi-final against Ulster. So I’ve been kind of been toing and froing the past month. I like Edinburgh, it’s a nice city, there’s a lot going on and I enjoy it.
“If I go to Japan or don’t go to Japan, it’s just good to know I’ve got a good club to go back to.”
A positive outlook, and why not for a lad who accepts he is lucky to be making a living in a more appealing way than he used to at the abattoir. The fact he ended the season so well with the Warriors does leave a bad taste though, clearly.
“I feel like I’ve got my opportunity again and I took it. I played well against Ulster and got the nod the against Leinster when we got the win across there, started against Edinburgh, then the semi-final [against Ulster] and the final [an 18-15 loss to Leinster] I was playing some of my best rugby in those games.”
Bhatti is now hoping to get a chance to prove that form again in the summer Tests against France and Georgia before Townsend makes his final cut. His last cap came against Ireland in the second round of this year’s Six Nations.
“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,” explained Bhatti.
“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.”
That is a sharp upward curve Bhatti has been on since getting that shot as a pro in 2016.
“You learn quickly,” he continued. “I said that to the coaches and they said it to me. Selection is nothing personal. It’s just opinions and that makes it a bit easier when you realise that. You just have to keep working hard. When you get a chance you take it and I did that at the end of the season.
“I didn’t want the boys around me to get me selected. I want to be picked on my own merit. We can all play together, the Glasgow boys and the Edinburgh boys.
“That’s the good thing about this [Scotland] camp. We get time to play with the guys you don’t normally play with. In the Six Nations they tend to keep the [club] units together as it’s quite a short time. I’ll play with anyone as long as I play.”