The HSBC Cape Town Sevens returned in blockbuster fashion as fans were treated to three days of epic action on the waterfront.
Samoa’s men and New Zealand’s women finished the final tournament of 2022 on the top step of the podium, following a weekend of thrills and spills.
But what does it all mean for both the race for the men’s and women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 titles and qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games?
Samoa, South Africa end year with narrow lead in men’s standings
Victory in Cape Town has catapulted Samoa to the top of the 2023 men’s Series standings, level on 47 points with South Africa.
The two teams have an identical record after three rounds, having won one tournament, finished fourth once and suffered a quarter-final defeat at the other.
It was fitting that Vaa Apelu Maliko provided the match-winning try in the final at DHL Stadium. The Samoa star is the joint-top try-scorer on the Series with 17 and is second only to Australia’s Dietrich Roache on the DHL Impact Player table.
Samoa needed an extra-time penalty to get past hosts South Africa in the Cup semi-finals in Cape Town, denying JC Pretorius a fairy tale end to his Series career.
Pretorius confirmed on Sunday that he was returning to 15s with United Rugby Championship side the Lions in 2023.
“This will really hurt, but that's sevens, you only have five minutes to be sad. Especially [for] me as this will be my last sevens tournament,” he said following defeat to Samoa.
Heading into 2023, the Blitzboks and Samoa hold a three-point lead at the top of the standings from Cape Town runners-up New Zealand and USA, who beat the hosts in the bronze final.
Fiji are fifth on 40 points, four points outside the Olympic qualification places, while defending champions Australia, who won the opening round in Hong Kong, are sixth on 39.
France are a further point adrift, while Argentina have 37 and Ireland 34. It means that only 13 points separate first and ninth, and with eight tournaments left to play there is plenty to play for when 2023 gets underway in Hamilton.
Australia, New Zealand lead the way in women’s standings
New Zealand, Australia and USA finished in the podium places for the second successive 2023 women’s Series tournament in Cape Town.
The Black Ferns Sevens gained revenge for defeat in the showpiece match in Dubai, running in five tries to win 31-14 at DHL Stadium.
It means that the teams are tied on 38 points at the top of the standings heading into 2023, and it looks as though theirs will again be a defining rivalry this season.
“It was a bit of a grind this week, but in the final the players found their self-belief and came out and delivered,” HSBC Player of the Final, Tyla Nathan Wong said.
It is not only at the top of the standings that Australia and New Zealand look set to go head-to-head. Maddison Levi ended the year with 18 tries in the 2023 Series, two ahead of Black Ferns Sevens star Michaela Blyde after both players crossed the whitewash seven times in Cape Town.
USA won the bronze final for a second successive weekend, beating Ireland in Cape Town, and they head into 2023 six points adrift of the top two.
France will start the first tournament of the new year, in Hamilton, in the fourth and final Olympic qualification spot, having amassed 26 points from the opening two rounds.
Immediately beneath them, Ireland have 24 points while Fiji have 20 and Great Britain 16 following a sixth-placed finish in Cape Town.
With tournaments in Hamilton and Sydney to be played at the end of January, though, no one will be taking anything for granted as they chase vital points in the race for the Series title and Olympic qualification.