IT is only three and a half years since Glasgow Warriors achieved a 42-22 bonus-point win away to Lyon on their way to qualifying for the knock-out phase of the 2018-19 Heineken Champions Cup – but for loose-head prop Jamie Bhatti it feels like a lifetime ago in many respects. 

Warriors return to the Matmut Stadium de Gerland on Saturday, this time in the quarter-finals of the second-tier European Challenge Cup, and Bhatti is one of only five players involved in that December 2018 success with a chance of being involved again – alongside Oli Kebble, Rob Harley, George Turner and Ali Price. 

But the intervening years have been tumultuous for the loose-head prop, who was shifted on to Edinburgh to get regular game-time at the end of the 2018-19 season, only to find himself frozen out at the capital as well under Richard Cockerill. 

A miserable year and a half later, he joined Bath as injury cover to the end of the 2020-21 season, and that move started the process of reviving his confidence and reigniting his love of the game, leading to a Glasgow recall last summer, which has been a happy homecoming for the 28-year-old. 

Although Danny Wilson likes to rotate his front-row players, the general consensus is that Bhatti is currently ahead of Kebble as the form loose-head at the club at the moment, and he would almost certainly have added to his Scotland cap haul of 20 during the recent Six Nations were it not for injury. 

“I feel alright. I was unlucky earlier in the year when I broke my hand just before the Six Nations, because before that, I was playing well,” said Bhatti, who signed a contract extension with the club – for the customary undisclosed period of time – at the start of April. “I feel like over the past few weeks, I’ve been getting back to where I was with that kind of form.  

“I’ve always said that I play my best when I’m getting regular game time because it builds confidence. The coaches have put their faith in me, so it’s up to me to keep performing and working hard.” 

“Being dropped is tough,” he replied, when asked to reflect on his rugby journey during the last three years. “It’s something which everyone needs to experience at some point.  

“When I was here at Glasgow the last time, I went eight weeks at one point without playing any rugby. I ended up playing for Ayr in the old Premiership. Then, when I was at Edinburgh, I went through another stint of not playing any rugby. 

“It’s a tough time when you’re not getting picked, so when you do get your chance, it just makes you want to work bloody hard to keep your spot, and that’s what I am trying to do now.” 

Bhatti went on to explain that he is expecting this weekend’s match against Lyon to be a very different challenge to that posed by the rather indifferent opposition Warriors encountered back in December 2018 (Lyon lost all six of the pool stage matches they played that season by an average of 16 points per match). 

“They are obviously a different side now than they were back then,” he said. ‘It will be similar to what we faced out in South Africa during the past fortnight – they look like a good set-piece side. 

“They’ve also got some class players in the backs like (Josua) Tuisova, but it will probably be won or lost up front. If we can match them physically as a pack, then we should come out on top because we’ve got the firepower in our backs to score tries.” 

Lyon are top seeds in the Challenge Cup and are going well in the French Top 14, beating league leader Montpellier last weekend, so they will start the game as favourites against a Warriors team who have struggled on the road this season. But Bhatti believes his team are ready to embrace the experience, despite the inevitable fatigue which comes from having only returned from South Africa late on Sunday afternoon before flying out to France this Friday. 

“We said it in South Africa, that performing in these big stadiums against some World Cup winners is why we play rugby,” he reasoned. “Lyon will be another massive test. It’s knockout rugby in Europe. These are the games you want to be involved in. 

“It would be massive for everyone involved with the club if we can push on and reach a European semi-final.”