Super Rugby: Cash-strapped Brumbies struggle to replace David Pocock

David Pocock, Christian Lealiifano, Fotu Auelua and Clyde Rathbone – there’s more than $1 million of ACT Brumbies talent sitting on the sideline injured.

Considering the salary cap is $4.5 million and you’ve got 30 players to feed, it’s a fair chunk of roster space.

Lealiifano is back training and pencilled in to play on March 28 against the Melbourne Rebels, Auelua is on track for round 12 and Rathbone will be back within a month.

Pocock is out for the season.

And now that George Smith has said no to a comeback offer, the Brumbies’ challenge is to scratch around for some cash to get a recruit.

It’s tough to replace a player of Pocock’s calibre. Smith is probably the only Australian player in the world who fits.

Finding the next-best could also be difficult because cash is tight. Really tight.

It’s understood the Brumbies are trying to make $100,000 in savings in their football department, operating to a tighter budget this year.

Adding a new player to the roster would change those plans.

Most people have forgotten that the club paid out injured No.8 Ita Vaea as he battles an ongoing heart condition and blood clots.

That payout is included in the salary cap. The rugby program is also trying to save money through other avenues as the belts tighten around the Australian rugby landscape.

The Brumbies reported a loss of $141,085 last season. It followed a loss of more than $300,000 in 2012.

The Australian Rugby Union has already admitted the game is in financial trouble and needs a dramatic overhaul to get things right.

Almost $1 million of the Brumbies salary cap from the past two seasons is invested in Pocock, despite playing just five games.

Pocock’s cruel knee injury is no fault of his own. In fact, if you were betting on any player in any sport to make a successful comeback, you’d put your money on Pocock because of his dedication and work ethic. He will be back for next year’s campaign and be intent on making amends for his absence.

But the Brumbies get no salary-cap exemption because he’s not on the field.

Australian rugby legend Smith was the saviour when Pocock was injured last season.

His bargain Super Rugby contract was worth only as much as rookies get, despite his 142 Brumbies caps and 111 Tests.

But on top of that was a significant amount in contract insurance for his Japanese club Suntory.

Smith has put an end to the thought of another fairytale Super Rugby comeback this year.

The chances of the 33-year-old returning to Canberra were slim.

He’s signed a rich two-year deal with French club Lyon and is moving his family to France in May.

The insurance on his French contract would have been huge and, in financially tough times, it would have been difficult for the Brumbies to cover.

But it was worth asking Smith the question.

It’s understood the Brumbies have been contacted by several players keen to help fill the void left by Pocock.

Most Australian players are locked away, the Japanese season has just finished and the European campaign will begin again in the coming months.

Whoever they recruit won’t be a Pocock or a Smith. But the Brumbies have rebuilt themselves as a club that doesn’t need to rely on one player.

The Brumbies haven’t turned a profit for the past three seasons.

They are still waiting for their new University of Canberra home to be built and are moving between bases at the university and AIS.

The Brumbies would love to employ a sports psychologist. There’s not enough money now.

”We’re looking to survive this period with a good rugby program and good rugby players and come out the other end then really look at what we can do,” Brumbies director of rugby Laurie Fisher said last month. ”Hopefully there’s an exciting future ahead with UC, it’s just about getting through this period.

”We’ve got our heads down and bums up and building on the good things that have been happening the last couple of years.”

The Brumbies have been operating without a chief executive since the end of December.

Interim boss Doug Edwards has stepped into the role in the past week to help ease the workload and give the organisation some direction.

The Brumbies’ search for a new chief executive was halted by the ARU’s plan to centralise Australian rugby operations and merge NSW, Queensland and Melbourne.

The Brumbies didn’t want to be involved and potential chief executive candidates were spooked by the prospect of their role being made redundant in the coming seasons.

However, club chief executives rejected the centralisation model at a meeting this week.

It has opened the door for the Brumbies to ramp up negotiations to get a leader into the organisation.

And at the top of the list is Pocock’s replacement.

Raise the red lantern

An early 20th-century courtesan. Photo: Beijing Postcards Historic Hutong. Photo: Beijing Postcards

Gabrielle Jaffe follows the trail of “Golden Lilly” the courtesan reputed to have saved China.

‘Welcome to my humble brothel,” jokes Simon Gjeroe, our 1.8-metre-plus guide. Kowtowing to fit through the doorway, he ushers us into a two-storey building that was once one of Beijing’s bordellos.

Today we are touring Bada Hutong, a 1.2 square kilometre area that is just south of Tiananmen Square and was the Chinese capital’s red-light district from the time of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) until the communists took over in 1949.

In its heyday, this warren of lanes housed more than 300 brothels and 700 opium dens.

There were whorehouses to cater for every taste and budget.

In the fanciest, fresh-faced girls sang songs, poured tea and entertained men in much the way geishas do in Japan. These women’s bodies were not bought outright; instead, would-be suitors wooed them with gifts over time.

For those leaving such places unsated, however, there were also spots where heavily perfumed and thickly made-up street-walkers openly sold sex.

After the Second Opium War (1856-60), a new breed of customer began frequenting Bada: foreigners from the nearby Legation Quarter.

Business boomed: by the turn of the century, Bada brimmed nightly with rows of red lanterns, screeching rickshaws and the heady scent of opium.

At first it’s hard to picture this scene as we stand in this dilapidated house, with half-exposed brick walls and broken banisters. Then Simon asks us to look up from the interior courtyard and imagine the girls in their white silks, coyly staring down at us from the second-floor gallery.

Simon and his fellow Dane, Lars Thom, are the perfect guides for this tour.

These enthusiastic historians and founders of the popular Beijing Postcards shop have lived in China for more than a decade and spent a lot of time chasing down stories and pictures of old Beijing in local archives and flea markets.

At our second stop, they point out a stone carving above a doorway, which in Mandarin reads “collected treasure” – a euphemism, apparently, for the high-class prostitutes who once lived inside. Today this duo aren’t just showing us around former houses of ill repute; they are helping us follow in the tiny bound footsteps of one of the area’s most famous residents: Sai Jinhua, the “Golden Lily” courtesan, whose roller-coaster life saw her earn a reputation as the saviour of the Chinese nation.

Obscured under the thick veils of myth, facts about Sai aren’t easily ascertained.

Some say she was born in 1874, others claim earlier. Aged about 14, she married Hong Jun, a high-ranking official more than 30 years her senior, whom she met in the floating brothels of Suzhou.

Sent as a special emissary to Europe from 1887 to 1890, Hong took Sai along with him, where she learnt German and mixed with the highest levels of society. After Hong’s death, Sai escaped to Beijing and began working once again in a brothel.

To quell the Boxer Rebellion, in 1900 an international force under the command of a walrus-moustached German general, Alfred von Waldersee, took over Beijing.

One night, as German officers burst into one of Bada’s brothels, the diminutive Sai began scolding them in their own language.

Impressed with her German, they employed her as a translator. On meeting General Waldersee, she is said to have rekindled an affair from her time in Germany.

It’s claimed that Sai used her influence over the general to secure clemency for some of her countrymen, who would otherwise have been executed, and to help broker a favourable peace settlement between the Chinese government and the alliance of foreign powers.

During their reunion, the couple reportedly stayed in Empress Cixi’s palace and, when it caught fire one night, were seen running out naked. At least, that’s how the story goes.

In reality, this tale is quite unlikely, not least because Sai would not have been able to sneak off to meet Waldersee behind her husband’s back while she was in Germany – with her bound feet she couldn’t sneak off anywhere.

Whatever the truth, Sai quickly became a cherished symbol, an ordinary person who stood up to the foreign powers and succeeded where the imperial government had failed.

Sai used her new-found celebrity to procure more business: in the year following her rumoured coup, she is said to have earned two kilograms of silver daily.

To visit the brothel she built in Bada during this period, we file down an alley so narrow that a cat is able to jump between the rooftops either side of it.

Inside, the past grandeur of the building is evident in its size and in its three-metre-high, Western-style stone arches.

However, today the scene is anything but glamorous. Situated in what is now one of the poorest parts of Beijing, Sai’s former brothel has become slum housing, with dozens of residents crammed into the one-time pleasure rooms.

The area’s fall from grace mirrors Sai’s own destiny.

In 1903 she was jailed, then expelled from Beijing, after being accused of mistreating one of her prostitutes who committed suicide.

After a brief spell of happiness with another husband, by the 1930s she was living in Beijing in near destitution.

Though her life lost lustre towards its end, her legend didn’t. As we stroll towards Capital M, an art deco restaurant where we will conclude the tour with a cocktail, our Danish guides recount the numerous times Sai’s story has been portrayed in Chinese literature and cinema.

Sipping our drinks, I reflect on how this has been a unique chance to trace the myth of an unlikely heroine, so celebrated in China but little known in the West.

Telegraph, London

The Sai Jinhua walk is available through Bespoke Beijing (www.bespoke-beijing爱杭州同城论坛m) as a private tour for up to 10 people for 3500RMB. The travel company also runs walks as public tours, priced at 250RMB per person on select occasions throughout the year.

Defence contractor Forgacs wins allies

NEWCASTLE defence contractor Forgacs has welcomed a commitment from Canberra to maintain the Australian naval shipbuilding industry.

Sections of the Abbott government are believed to agree with Productivity Commission arguments that Australia could buy its naval vessels for about 30per cent less from overseas suppliers.

But Defence Minister David Johnston has backed the domestic industry this week, telling Fairfax Media that ‘‘we need a naval shipbuilding industry’’.

If Mr Johnston gets his way, the government should soon announce new shipbuilding contracts.

But critics of the domestic industry are likely to point to a new 320-page report by the Australian National Audit Office which finds substantial problems at Forgacs and other companies involved in the $8.5billion air warfare destroyer program.

The audit report states the three-vessel contract had ‘‘a range of delivery issues including … major block construction problems and substantially lower than anticipated construction productivity’’.

‘‘The design and construction issues have led to extensive, time consuming and costly rework,’’ the report said.

Forgacs chief executive Lindsay Stratton acknowledged the shortcomings of Forgacs and the head contractor, Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) found in the report but said the audit office also noted that the ‘‘stop-start’’ nature of naval shipbuilding caused a lot of its problems.

Forgacs chief executive Lindsay Stratton

He said Forgacs and the rest of the industry had warned the government about the loss of skills in the industry, which was now facing an even greater challenge in the form of a looming ‘‘valley of death’’ once the destroyers were finished in 2016.

The audit report details how Forgacs was assembling almost one-third of the 31 modules used to build each of the three ships, and that work had been transferred back and forth between Forgacs and ASC in response to various problems.

Mr Stratton said the 900-strong Forgacs workforce was about halfway through the second vessel.

Without new work being announced and won it would have to start laying people off early next year.

Manuka uncertain for Shield final

Is Manuka Oval ready to host the Sheffield Shield final? A lot will be riding on the state of the pitch. Photo: Melissa AdamsThe Manuka Oval pitch has to be ”good enough for a Test match” and able to last for five days to host the Sheffield Shield final, former Australian paceman and NSW bowling coach Geoff Lawson says.

Lawson inspected the ground during this week’s three-day game between the NSW second XI and the ACT and said its ability to produce a pitch for a five-day game was an unknown.

Manuka Oval groundsman Brad Van Dam dismissed any concerns and had no doubt the pitch would be fit for a Shield final.

It is in the running to host the Shield final from March 21-25 for the first time if NSW finishes on top of the table.

The Blues fight for hosting rights when they face Western Australia in Canberra in the final game of the regular season, starting on Monday.

NSW, Western Australia and South Australia are all level on 26 points, while the fourth-placed Queensland Bulls still have an outside shot on 22 points.

While he was glowing in terms of Manuka Oval’s facilities, Lawson said it was unclear whether the new centre squad block could host a five-day game.

”I thought the ground was really good quality, we’ve just got to make sure it is good enough for a Test match because the wicket is new and we want to see what the wicket is doing,” Lawson said.

”For a Shield final it’s got to be ready for five days, so there’s a little bit of an unknown.

”You don’t want it falling apart after three or four days because then anything can happen.”

There hasn’t been a four-day game at Manuka Oval since the playing surface was completely re-laid during the off-season.

Cricket NSW had to find an alternative venue after the SCG committed to the Major League Baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The choice was between Manuka and Blacktown.

Van Dam was focused on preparing a pitch for next week’s game and would only worry about the final once it was locked in.

He had no doubt Manuka Oval could host the final.

”The pitch we had for the three-day game this week could’ve handled five days easily,” he said. ”[When] we get the nod that it will be here then I will start the process.

”The whole square will be fully grassed so there’ll be no problem.”

ANU captain Bennett backs troops

ANU captain Mark Bennett. Photo: Graham TidyANU is not exactly sprinting towards the finish line, but captain Mark Bennett is confident in the knowledge his side is in control of its finals destiny.

Chasing its first play-off appearance in several years, ANU is clinging to fourth place going into the last round of the Douglas Cup two-day competition starting on Saturday.

A first-innings victory against last-placed Weston Creek Molonglo (eight points) in its match at ANU North Oval will put ANU in the box seat for a semi-final showdown with minor premier Queanbeyan.

If ANU slips up, North Canberra Gungahlin can claim the last remaining finals berth with a first-innings result against seventh-placed Tuggeranong (eight points) at Harrison.

Norths can also leapfrog ANU if it secures an outright win and ANU doesn’t.

Both sides are locked on 16 competition points, with ANU having the edge courtesy of a superior percentage.

ANU appeared certain to book a spot in the finals, but two draws and an outright loss in its past three games has left it in nervous territory.

Bennett said it was hard to get a gauge on his side’s form given some rain-affected results in recent weeks.

”We would have liked to have wrapped it by now, but unfortunately it’s not the case,” Bennett said.

”We don’t have to rely on any results if we win, which is always good.

”We just have to back ourselves and turn around our patchy form.”

Queanbeyan is assured top spot on 38 points, while Wests/UC and Eastlake are equal second on 26.

Since beating third-placed Eastlake in round 10, ANU drew with Norths and Ginninderra and suffered a three-wicket loss to Queanbeyan.

ANU hasn’t featured in the finals since making the decider in 2006-07 and has become more competitive on the back of several impressive youngsters. Batsman Owen Chivers made a double century earlier in the season before missing eight weeks with a broken hand.

He was rewarded with selection for the ACT in this week’s three-day match at Manuka Oval against the NSW second XI.

With the ball, fast bowler Scott Murn has been a revelation and claimed eight wickets in his previous match.

”Those two guys have been fantastic all year and bring a lot of energy to our team,” Bennett said.

”Owen had that little break with his broken hand, but it was good to see him score some runs for the ACT during the week.”

All games start at 11am.