Aussie Super Rugby sides must capitalise on Sydney Sevens momentum

Australian rugby needed a bright start to 2018, and the game received just that as the men's and women's sevens teams recorded a clean sweep at the Sydney Sevens.

After a dreadful 2017 that featured the demise of the Western Force, a 0-26 record against New Zealand opposition in Super Rugby and, for the Wallabies, not one but two losses to Scotland, the Sydney tournament provided the clean slate players, supporters and administrators desperately craved.

But no-one could have predicted the fashion in which both the men's and women's outfits powered to victory at Allianz Stadium, the gents in particular given they had been without a tournament victory since the Tokyo stop from 2012.

Yet from the moment rookie Maurice Longbottom produced the ultimate ankle-breaker of left-foot steps and sprinted 60 metres to the corner in the quarterfinal against New Zealand, there seemed to be an unprecedented determination and desire to complete the job. Wins over Argentina and then South Africa, both without conceding a try, ensured they did just that as they lifted the trophy two years after they were beaten in the inaugural Sydney Sevens final - a decider lost in heartbreaking fashion to New Zealand in extra-time.

While the men managed to hold their line for their two biggest games of the tournament, their female counterparts managed the unthinkable in doing for the entire tournament. All six games of it.

Given the amount of space on offer in the game's shortened format, keeping a clean sheet across 84 minutes of rugby is a remarkable achievement. It had never been done before on the HSBC Sevens World Series in either the men's or women's competitions. After three days of exhausting action in sweaty Sydney, the women's ledger read 213-0. That kind of scorecard hasn't been in Australian sport since Hayden and Langer used to open the batting (outside Australia).

The women's triumph in Sydney was their second straight this season, and the Pearls once again are looking like the team that won Olympic gold in 2016 -- not the same group who last year seemed weighed down by the pressure of expectation created by their triumph in Rio de Janeiro.

The men's circuit now rolls into Hamilton in six days' time, while the women are on hold until the series resumes in Japan in April.

But, for Australian rugby in general, the Brisbane Global Tens in a fortnight's time will be the first outing for the country's four Super Rugby franchises in 2018. Two weeks later, the season proper begins when the Rebels face the Reds in Melbourne, the Waratahs host the Stormers in Sydney, and the Brumbies travel to Tokyo to battle the Sunwolves.

Given the platform their sevens counterparts laid at the weekend, the four Australian franchises simply cannot afford a slow start to 2018. Kurtley Beale's return to Sydney; Will Genia's move to the Rebels, where he is joined by the pick of the Force's talent; Brad Thorn's rapid rise to the Reds' top job; and the always overlooked Brumbies, albeit with an injured David Pocock, provide the kind of storylines that generate early interest in a new season.

But interesting storylines can quickly turn if teams can't get it together between the touchlines.

The Australian men's and women's sevens teams have done their part, and given new Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle the dream start. The 54, 874 crowd for the three days was well down on last year's 75, 000 total but that won't worry the new chief of Rugby Australia one bit; she even quipped "I haven't lost a game as CEO".

The Brumbies, Rebels, Reds and Waratahs now have a responsibility to capitalise on the sevens momentum, otherwise the success will be nothing more than a fleeting golden haze one warm weekend in January.