IT seems that when it comes to Scottish hookers, 23 is the new 19. In most positions, the pattern for players is to come through school, age-grade, Academy and then win a pro contract aged somewhere around 19 or 20.

The late developers may leave it until they are 21, but not if you are a hooker. Every one of them in the current Rugby World Cup training squad made their life-changing move in their mid 20s and that goes for the latest to join the top table.

Grant Stewart did play age-grade international rugby up to Under 19 level but then things came to a grinding halt. There were no Under 20s appearances and when he would have been hoping for an Academy contract, there was nothing but silence. His usual role as a bench man for Glasgow Hawks did little to advance his case.

But that is hardly unusual for Scottish hookers; none of them have got to the top the easy way.

Stuart McInally, who leads the pack at the moment, was making a perfectly respectable career as a back row before he was persuaded to take a huge gamble and switch to hooker at the reasonably advanced age of 23.

Then there was Fraser Brown, who did seem to be doing things the orthodox way, hooking all through school and captaining the Under 20s from the front row. In his case it was a prolapsed disc in his neck that derailed his career, forcing him to take time away from the game and then spend a period playing flanker for Heriot’s before Glasgow Warriors rescued his career in his mid 20s.

Or take George Turner, who completes the hooker roster in the World Cup training squad. He also came through the ranks and seemed to be doing it by the book when he signed his first pro deal with Edinburgh in 2014.

Only he spent the next three years being ignored by his club coaches and it was not until he switched from his home city to Glasgow Warriors that his career took off, winning his first cap against Samoa a few months later.

Stewart, must hope he is on a sim-ilar trajectory and there have been some parallels. After years of frustration his chances finally came as he approached his mid 20s.

He toured with Scotland last summer before he was on a full-time contract, without winning a cap, and now he has club experience, including scoring a try in the Guinness PRO14 final, is on the verge of making that final breakthrough to the Test team during the warm-up series.

He has had to work hard for his promotion. The years at Hawks turned out to be pivotal particularly after Finlay Gillies, a former Glasgow hooker, arrived as coach.

He realised Stewart had everything it took if only he could sort out a few weaknesses in his technique. So began a period of hard work for both that eventually paid off with his line- out throwing showing the biggest improvements.

“I’m still doing a lot of work after training with Fras [Fraser Brown], and we’ve got a throwing coach, Simon Hardy, who’s helping me a lot with ball aiming and overall confidence in myself,” said Stewart after acknowledging the difference Gillies had made.

“If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be in the World Cup mix, I’d have said no chance, there’s a lot of talented boys playing.

“When I was playing for Hawks there was a wee bit of an injury crisis at Glasgow [in 2017] and I got called in to be 24th man. I got noticed then and got the Academy deal [that summer].

“Now, I just want to push on as far as I can. I want to play [in the warm-up games and World Cup], and if I train well, I don’t see why not. If I do my role well and work hard to improve then who knows?

“If I make a break I try to do something a wee bit different. I try not to just carry, I’ll try to make a step or do something different to everyone else.”

The 24-year-old knows his chance came through injuries – though it was also an injury to his shoulder that cost him the chance to win his first cap during the Six Nations this year – and that with McInally, Brown and Turner in position he almost certainly has to rely on injuries to fulfil his dream, but given his chance, he has seized it.

For a player who hadn’t even stepped on the ladder two years ago and who thought his opportunity had gone, he also knows things can change quickly and he is in a position to take advantage, just as McInally, Brown and Turner did before him.