More than pride on the line for Aussie men in Sydney

Fancy dress and fancy-free might be hallmarks of the Sydney Sevens, but the Australia Day tournament will be a pressure-filled long weekend for the Australian men's team this year.

With coach Andy Friend off contract in June, the squad rocked by the sudden retirement of their most experienced player, Ed Jenkins, and with a Commonwealth Games seeding riding on their performance, the sixth-ranked men have more motivation than ever to bring home a drought-breaking cup win at Allianz Stadium next weekend.

Their last world series win was in London in 2012. After a disappointing performance at the Rio Olympics and a sixth-place finish in last year's world series, the team is desperate to play the house down in front of a home crowd. Sydney has been a happy hunting ground since its addition to the circuit two years ago, with the men making the semi-finals last year and the final the year before. With Commonwealth Games seedings announced on February 1 there is no better time for Australia to double down on the home ground advantage and leapfrog their rivals.

"If you're not in the top four [going into Commonwealth Games seeding], you're going to cop one of the top four in your pool games," Friend said. "In the Commonwealth Games system you must finish at the top of your pool to get into the semis, there's not that back up where you're in the quarter-final, so it's pretty important to us as it is for South Africa, New Zealand, Fiji and England - the four teams above us now - to stay ahead of us."

Jenkins' forced retirement is a major blow for the squad, which ranks among the least experienced teams on the international circuit. Where South Africa's all-conquering Blitzboks average 30-something tournament caps across the team, the vast majority of the Australians are still in single figures.

"We now need other players in the program to step up and fill that void and I'm sure we'll get some young blokes doing that," Friend said.

There is plenty of buzz around the likes of youngsters Lachie Anderson, Tim Anstee, Boyd Killingworth and Simon Kennewell, while relative veteran Lewis Holland and self-described grandfather of the squad, Chucky Stannard, will help fill the leadership void left by Jenkins' departure. Jesse Parahi will also make his playing return in the Darwin Sevens this weekend after 13 months on the sidelines.

"We've set our sights on three big titles this year - the first one is Sydney, Commonwealth Games is the next one and then the World Cup," Friend said.

"As a program we haven't had those series wins since 2012 but we've been working hard, we've got what I believe is a very healthy, good squad, and we're going to give it our best shot on the Australia Day weekend."

Friend said he was well aware that his own job was on the line this season, with Rugby Australia holding out on a contract renewal for the experienced coach.

"I'm loving my time here, I believe we're building something special, but I'm a realist as well, you can't have everything you want in this world," he said. "I've had 21 years of 15s coaching so if I go back to that I'd be very comfortable with that too but I do know I want to keep coaching. I love working with young, ambitious people and we've got a great group here. If we can get some wins and I stay here great and if it's not then I know the program is going to continue to thrive."

This story More than pride on the line for Aussie men in Sydney first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.