TRU's Gary Heatly was out in Cape Town for the second round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens series where he witnessed his native Scotland produce another encouraging display, USA go to the summit and Fiji lift silverware.
Scotland have made a solid start to the 2018/19 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series with Cup quarter-final appearances in the two opening events - but head coach John Dalziel feels there is a lot more to come from his playing group after the turn of the year.
The Scots finished 12th overall in 2017/18 and, in general, it was a season of frustration with the squad changing a lot due to injuries and a number of sevens novices finding their feet at the top level.
This term, the Scots have an extended full-time core squad of 17 and that has created a lot more competition to get into the 13 man touring squads for events. In turn, it has given Dalziel more options to rest people and tinker positively with his selections.
In Dubai at the end of November/start on this month, the Scots got off to a good start in the pool stages with a comfortable victory over Kenya and then came within a whisker of defeating Fiji.
They then drew 14-14 with France meaning that they just beat their European opponents into second place in the pool and progressed to the Cup last eight along with Fiji.
Day two saw them beaten 21-7 in the quarter-final by eventual winners New Zealand and then came a 29-0 loss to South Africa in the fifth-place semi-final.
Onto Cape Town in South Africa last weekend and they came out of the blocks flying. Ever-improving winger Max McFarland scored tries in their opening two pool wins on day one over Canada (21-14) and Wales (28-7).
A 26-14 loss to Australia meant they finished second in the pool and were into the Cup quarter-finals again for day two.
In that last eight tie, they would be taking on the hosts who had not fired on all cylinders on day one and were under pressure from an expectant crowd in the Cape Town Stadium.
The Scots were without co-captain Jamie Farndale through injury, but Sam Pecqueur came into the starting seven and did a fine job.
The home fans may have expected a walkover and in the end South Africa progressed, but make no mistake about it, Scotland could and perhaps should have won this tie.
Early in the first half, they should have capitalised on a Jo Nayacavou break into the home ‘22’ and when trailing 14-12 late on, they missed a penalty kick to touch which you just cannot do at this level.
South Africa won 21-12, but the Scots know that was one that got away while their 12-7 defeat to Spain in the fifth-place semi-final shows that this squad still has some way to go to be competing regularly with the top sides on the circuit.
Forward strides have certainly been made, though and in players like Nyle Godsmark, co-captain Robbie Fergusson and McFarland, they have guys who are becoming more experienced and are asserting themselves more on ties.
Head coach Dalziel said: “On reflection, it’s obviously encouraging to obtain two top eight finishes and Cup quarter-finals in the first two events.
“There are no easy games and over the last two weeks, we have played South Africa twice, New Zealand and Fiji.
“We were the architects of our own downfall against Fiji in Dubai and again versus South Africa in Cape Town with a real opportunity to reach the semi-finals we couldn’t quite do it.
“I think that shows how far this young group have come that they are growing as a team and have played some very good rugby over the last two weeks. It’s a very unpredictable game with some world class teams going hard for Olympic qualification.
“It’s testament to the group that we are not satisfied with just the top eight. The experiences gained in the first two rounds will hold us in good stead for the rest of the season. We now have time to rest up, recover and review and continue to improve key areas ahead of 2019.”
The USA have undoubtably been the team of the first two rounds with Mike Friday’s men reaching two finals.
They have ended up runners-up in both - to New Zealand and Fiji - but have shown enough to suggest that they can mount a serious challenge for the overall title this year.
Reigning champions South Africa struggled with injuries and expectation in Cape Town, but once they have licked their wounds over the festive period, they will come back firing while England have made a solid start with 30 points in the bag.
I was lucky enough to be at the Cape Town leg for the first time and boy do they know how to throw a party there!
The atmosphere when the Blitzbokke played was unreal, but it was a shame to see the stadium empty out somewhat after the home side had lost in the semi-final to New Zealand.
Nevertheless, it is a cracking tournament and the stadium is in the ideal location with it being just a few minutes walk from the stunning V & A Waterfront.
This circuit just keeps getting better and better, roll on 2019…
HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2018/19:
Dubai, UAE: 30 November-1 December 2018 - winners New Zealand
Cape Town, South Africa: 8-9 December 2018 - winners Fiji
Hamilton, New Zealand: 26-27 January 2019
Sydney, Australia: 2-3 February 2019
Las Vegas, USA: 1-3 March 2019
Vancouver, Canada: 9-10 March 2019
Hong Kong, Hong Kong: 5-7 April 2019
Singapore, Singapore: 13-14 April 2019
London, England: 25-26 May 2019
Paris, France: 1-2 June 2019