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Scots ready for a Popp at Irish; COUNTDOWN TO MURRAYFIELD.

Scotland were celebrating yesterday when they heard top Ireland forward Nick Popplewell is out of Saturday's Wooden Spoon decider at Murrayfield.

Power-prop Popplewell - rated one of the world's best scrummagers - has been hit with an old knee problem.

Scots back-row star Peter Walton, a team-mate of "Popps" at Newcastle, said: "He will be a huge miss for them.

"He has played very well this season and has proved to be a great cornerstone for the club.

"I can't remember seeing him being shifted about at any stage."

Scots manager Arthur Hastie added: "There is no doubt that he would have been a key factor in their scrummaging.

"My own personal view of Popplewell, however, is that he has reached his peak - and is now maybe going down the way.

"But anything that may disrupt that aspect of their game is obviously welcome to us."

Ironically, the man who is the hottest tip to replace Popplewell has spent a chunk of his rugby career north of the border - and just about qualifies to play for Scotland.

New Zealand-born Gavin Walsh played for Glasgow Southern for almost two seasons as their overseas "guest" player.

If he had stayed for a few more months he could have qualified to wear the white thistle on a residency basis.

Instead he moved to Northampton to join Scots coach Ian McGeechan - and makes it into the green jersey through an Irish-born grandparent.

Walsh made the briefest of Test debuts last month when he came on as a replacement against France for the dying seconds of the match.

Meanwhile, flu-hit skipper Graeme Beveridge has been forced to pull out of Scotland's Under-21 encounter with Ireland at Myreside tomorrow.

His place goes to Edinburgh Accies scrum-half Phil Simpson, with Watsonians' Jamie Weston coming onto the bench.

Squad spokesman John Roxburgh said: "The change doesn't weaken us.

"Graeme and Phil are players of contrasting styles - but are equally effective.

"Phil showed he can operate under pressure with his displays for the Caledonia Reds in the European Cup."

Simpson will also be one of the leading candidates to land the captain's job, along with flanker Iain Sinclair.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 27, 1997
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