In Vancouver on Sunday, New Zealand took out the latest leg of the HSBC Rugby Sevens World Series.
New Zealand's 19-14 victory over South Africa in the final put them right back in contention to win the series, which has now completed six of the ten tournaments for the year.
With four rounds to go, the top three teams – Fiji, South Africa, and New Zealand – are neck and neck, with just three points separating them.
Fiji still lead the series on 106 points (gaining 15 points after finishing 4th in Vancouver), with South Africa on 105 and New Zealand on 104.
The big three have now opened up a significant lead over the rest of the field, with Australia being the next-best side on 90 points.
Rugby sevens takes over Vancouver
While the result of the Vancouver Sevens appears to have set the scene for an exciting conclusion to the series, it was in some ways overshadowed by what happened off the field.
2016 was the first time the sevens series tournament had been held in Canada, following the expansion of the world series schedule from 9 to 10 tournaments.
Over the course of the tournament's two days, more than 60,000 fans attended BC Place (home to Vancouver's top Canadian football and soccer teams). Taking the average attendance of the two days, this figure beat the previous attendance record for a rugby game in Canada by about 10,000 people (20,396 for a fixture between Canada and Ireland in Toronto in 2013).
Compare that to the figures for the third leg of the tournament that took place in Wellington, New Zealand. In a similar-sized stadium, in a country where rugby is the national sport, less than 30,000 people showed up over the weekend of January 30.
For a country where rugby is not considered a major sport, this is an incredible figure.
For most of rugby's history, the game – while in some sense an international sport – has been dominated by half a dozen countries, with many of the other nations attaining only a token presence in their home countries.
Figures like those on display in Vancouver last week, suggest that times may be changing in the rugby world.
The barometer of the game
In a way, rugby sevens can be seen as a barometer for the sport as a whole.
As a game, sevens is shorter, simpler, and faster than its 15-a-side equivalent. For emerging nations, it is easier to compete, as the game requires less depth of players and fewer specialised skills. For new fans, sevens is far easier to understand and takes up much less time.
The Rugby World Cup last year hinted at the possibility of a shake-up in the established order, with new teams and new fans making their mark on the tournament.
In the world of rugby sevens, this shake-up is already well advanced – both in terms of players and fans. Less established nations such as the USA and Kenya have already proved that they can compete and win at the highest level of the game.
Scenes such as those in Vancouver last week, also show that the game is making waves well beyond its traditional heartlands.
The Rio effect
The biggest change for rugby however, is still yet to come. In August, rugby sevens will make its debut at the Olympics in Rio, with both a men's and women's competition.
It is difficult to calculate how big an impact the Olympics will have on the game of rugby. Certainly, it has resulted in significant investment in sevens programmes from nations which covet gold medals. Whether it will translate into increased numbers playing and watching the game post-Rio, is harder to know.
At the very least though, it presents a huge opportunity for the game of rugby. The Olympics will introduce rugby, in its abbreviated form, to an audience that reaches far beyond the game's traditional strongholds.
Furthermore, it will project the game to these people in its simplest and most accessible form, in a competition which affords the winner one of the most coveted prizes in sport – an Olympic gold medal.
If the caretakers of the game can make the most of the opportunity that has been presented to them, then the crowds at BC Place last week may just be the sign of things to come.
Tim Newman lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. He is a keen sports fan, particularly following Rugby and American Football.
Tim Newman's previous articles may be viewed athttp://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-newman.html