Jamie Bhatti has taken a circuitous rout into professional rugby and, on Saturday, the biggest game of his short career to date.
He quit school aged 15 and worked as a slaughter man in Stirling for several years, claiming that lumping all that dead beef around helped build his impressive physique. Bhatti has only been a fully-fledged professional player for the last five months after graduating from the academy in the summer.
Now the loosehead prop has played ten matches on the bounce. He got his first European experience last weekend at Sandy Park and his second will arrive on Saturday when Leinster drop anchor at Scotstoun, complete with their Lions tightheap prop Tadhg Furlong.
Bhatti will have a big lump of beef to manhandle on Saturday afternoon; presumably this is the biggest match in his fledging career by, well, a furlong?
“Definitely. It’ll be a tough one,” he says. “I’ve never played Leinster so we’ve been watching them. Last week against Montpellier they were really good, but we have home advantage that will help us.
“We need to execute our game plan better. We were put under a lot of pressure upfront and gave away too many penalties, which let Exeter in the game.
“If we keep ball, don’t give away penalties and execute, that should do the job. Leinster are a physical team with a few Lions boys in there as well, so it’ll be a test this week.”
It was Scottish footballer Alan Hansen who was derided for opining that you win nothing with kids, only to see a youthful Manchester United team lift the Premiership trophy. If only he’d been talking about rugby and, more particularly, about the front five of the forward pack, the pundit would have been on firmer ground.
After Fraser Brown exited early against Exeter the Warriors front five were aged: 24, 25, 21, 30 & 23 with Tim Swinson the daddy in the crèche. At 24 Bhatti is barely out of nappies in prop years, he is in his first season as a full time professional and, while Saturday’s opponent Furlong, pictured above, is the same age as the Scot, the Irishman is good bit further down the development line and is sure to test the Glasgow No 1.
Glasgow conceded far too many scrum penalties last weekend and, if they do the same again on Saturday, their hopes of staying alive in Europe will shorten dramatically.
It is asking a lot of Bhatti, although the loosehead has played well so far this season, solid if not spectacular.
Indeed, he seems a little surprised to find himself operating at the top of the Europe game, as well he might. Just last season he was turning out in the BT Premiership and, on Saturday afternoon, is will be at the sharp end of the best club competition in the world.
“There have been a lot of injuries,” he explains modestly, although Oli Kebble’s size and experience has been missed, “and I have been fit. I wouldn’t say that I have been playing spectacular rugby, I have just been doing the best that I can.
“I was playing for Melrose this time last year. I spent the last two seasons at Melrose and went there from Stirling. I was in the academy last year and signed my first pro contract in the summer.
“I am only five months into my first pro contract but it’s brilliant, I’m happy to be playing these games and putting my hand up for selection. I’ll just keep pushing on. I wasn’t expecting it, I don’t think anyone was expecting it. There’s been injuries but I’ve kept myself fit and just keep plodding on.
“I played six games last year during the international windows. First game was Scarlets away and we got a horsing in that game, I can’t remember the score but thought to myself, ‘this is bit different to running out at Melrose on a Saturday’. But it’s like anything – the more you play the most you get used to it.
“I think I cam coping well with it. Even during pre-season I was here for the full thing when the Scotland boys were away on tour and you want to push on and get the first games in the season under your belt. I’ll play every game if I’m allowed to!”