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.

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