The Glasgow Warriors loosehead won his second cap off the bench in Saturday’s memorable 22-17 loss to the All Blacks but revealed yesterday that a couple of years ago he was ready to walk away from serious rugby and pursue a career in the police.
At 24, he is a young man, especially in propping terms, but it was only two years ago that he was given a Glasgow academy contract, which classes him as a bit of a late developer, signing full terms in the summer.
“There was a time when I thought the pro thing had passed me by,” he admitted yesterday at Scotland’s Oriam training base. “I was looking at other careers. I applied for the police but I messed up the interview for that.
“I passed the fitness test, passed the written test and then came to the formal interview and I made a mess of it. I just froze. There were two of them in front of me firing the questions and I just panicked. It was all a bit formal.
“It was maybe a godsend I didn’t get it. I said if I got in the police I would have stepped away from rugby.”
Bhatti was working in a Bridge of Allan slaughterhouse at the time and was looking for a change.
“Anything to get out of there,” he said. “I didn’t want to be there for the rest of my days. Anything would have done.
“Being there makes you want it more. Work that bit harder so you don’t have to go back and do the manual labour. Get up at half five in the morning, driving into your work.”
The well-documented run of injuries which has hit a raft of Scotland’s leading front-rowers has presented Bhatti with his opportunity, first with the Warriors and now, incredibly, with a national team he was in the BT Murrayfield stands cheering on at this time last year.
The product of Hillfoots RFC moved to Stirling County before Melrose coach John Dalziel brought him to the Borders last summer.
“I don’t have time to reflect on it,” said Bhatti of his rapid rise since. “I was saying to [forwards coach] Dan [McFarland] in the changing room before my first cap [against Samoa] that in April this year I was in the same changing rooms playing for Melrose against Ayr [in the BT Cup final, which Melrose won 23-18].
“Six months later I am in there winning my first cap for Scotland!
“In the short space of time it has come I am just enjoying it. I have been given an opportunity and just taken it. I have been given a lot of game time with Glasgow and played most weeks this season.”
Bhatti actually got over the line for a touchdown on Saturday but had already heard the whistle and knew it wouldn’t count, although there has since been a bit of controversy about the incident.
It came with Scotland trailing 22-10 and pressing in front of the All Black posts, six minutes before Huw Jones’ try got the home side back within five points. Jonny Gray clearly had the ball slapped forward out of his hands by Kiwi skipper Kieran Read. Bhatti pounced and dotted down but English ref Matt Carley had stopped play.
“I have seen it, aye,” said Bhatti. “I am not a ref but I would say it should be play on. I never saw the slap at the time, but you do as you do. I reacted to it, picked the ball up and the sticks were there so that was it.
“The ball came squirting out from Jonny’s hands and I picked it up. As I picked it up, the whistle went, so I didn’t celebrate.”
It would have been Bhatti’s first-ever try at pro level.
Forwards boss McFarland was also asked about the incident and said: “Yellow card. Quite possibly [a try], quite possibly a penalty try, but I can see that that would be something for discussion, but that’s not up for discussion, is it. That’s just cynical, isn’t it. They’re an extremely competitive side and everybody in world rugby knows that, when you get the ball into their 22, the very last thing they want to do is concede a try. That’s how they play.
“These things sometimes go for you, sometimes go against you. That’s a difficult job making those kinds of decisions in front of 67,000 people where everybody wants the game to go on as well.”
With fellow new boy Darryl Marfo nursing an ankle problem from the weekend, Bhatti could be in line for a first Scotland start when the Wallabies come calling this weekend.
Bhatti accets that, for all the plaudits that came the Scotland squad’s way for their admirable effort against the All Blacks, there is room for improvement and another formidable Test match in store.
“Absolutely. 100 per cent,” he said. “Obviously it will be a tough test against Australia this week and they had a bad loss against England, but they are a world-class side, so we have to be at our best to beat them.
“I am sure we will talk about that [improving further] tonight with Gregor [Townsend] as it is something that is necessary.”