Argentina exact bloody revenge as Hong Kong collapse
Furious skipper Varty points finger at second-half substitutes after his side suffer heavy defeat by South Americans in World Cup opener
The Hong Kong Sevens seemed a world away for Rowan Varty and his men. Three months ago they defeated Argentina 7-5. Yesterday they were thumped 47-7 by the same opponents as Hong Kong's World Cup campaign got off to the worst possible start.
"We can't lose by 40 points to a team we beat a few months ago," was the disbelieving cry from skipper Varty as he walked off.
Argentina ran in seven tries in a game of two halves - the first close, the second a one-sided rout.
Head coach Dai Rees looked clearly unhappy as he stalked off the pitch at the impressive but mostly empty Luzhniki Stadium.
The players must have felt empty, too, after a performance which Varty described as one with "our heads up our a***". He was actually pointing his finger at the substitutes who came on in the second half, for Hong Kong were superb in the first half, holding Argentina 14-7 at the break. Hong Kong began with Kwok ka-chun, Nick Hewson and Anthony Haynes in the forwards, Jamie Hood, the solitary try-scorer for Hong Kong, and Alex McQueen as the linkmen with Varty and Tom McQueen out wide. They defended well and could even have led at the break if Tom McQueen had been able to hack the ball through after a delicate grubber past the defence had put him clear.
Hood's try was sandwiched between Argentina opening two tries and was the result of good work by Varty who stood up in a tackle to offload with his left hand and put Hood in the clear. Everything was set for another titanic battle a la the Hong Kong Sevens before Hong Kong self-destructed.
Things might have been a bit better if New Zealand referee James McPhail hadn't been a trifle harsh on Hong Kong. But Varty refused to blame the officiating, instead preferring to look within his own team. "This is a wake-up call for a few of the guys coming on in the second half," Varty said. "Trailing by seven points and to concede that number of points in the second half is unforgivable.
"Yes, we might have had some harsh calls, but instead of working their way back and tackling, everyone just stood around complaining about the ref. That's not going to get you anywhere. The guys need a reality check."
Hong Kong have been notorious for slow starts in tournaments - as they showed in Hong Kong and London where they played poorly on the opening days - and perhaps this was one of them. But Varty wasn't having any of that. "We can't keep doing this if we want to be in the series and if we want to be competing in the World Cup. We can't lose by 40 points to a team we beat a month ago. The first half was fine, the second was just rubbish."
Hong Kong will need to rebound quickly today as they come up against England and Portugal in their remaining group games. England defeated a feisty Portugal 21-7.
Hong Kong's aim here is to win silverware, perhaps the Bowl, and to finish as the best Asian team, which will earn a ticket for the Under-18 squad to next year's Youth Olympic Games in China.
Other big names, England, South Africa and defending champions Wales all won their opening games, while Scotland beat Japan 19-17.