In what is fast becoming a dangerous trend, Japan defeated a six-man Hong Kong in the final of the Borneo Sevens to land the first blow in the race to qualify for the in Moscow next year.
Japan's 33-22 victory in the opening leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series in Kota Kinabalu yesterday was only sealed after Alex McQueen had been sin-binned.
"It is the usual story once again against Japan with us only losing after being down to six men," said disappointed coach Dai Rees. "I'm wondering if we are creating our own bad luck, for this is not the first time we have had something like this happen to us."
In more than a few meetings between the two teams - most notably the 2010 Asian Games final and this year's crucial encounter at the Cathay Pacific/ HSBC Hong Kong Sevens - Hong Kong were reduced to six men, giving Japan the upper hand. The trend occurred again yesterday, robbing Hong Kong of the chance to win the first of three ranking tournaments this season.
McQueen - whose younger sibling, Tom, missed the quarter-final against Kazakhstan after being slapped with a one-match ban for a red card on the first day - was shown the yellow card by the referee for wilful interference and failing to retire 10 metres after a tap penalty had been awarded to Japan.
It was the turning point of the game, with one minute to go, Hong Kong had nosed ahead 22-19 thanks to a try from Tom McQueen. "But they scored from [the resulting penalty] and then from the ensuing restart, we won the ball only to see an intercept leading to another try."
If the agony of yet another final defeat at the hands of Japan was crushing, overall, Hong Kong will be happy they accomplished the pre-tournament goal of finishing in the top two.
"Our goal this season is to make it to the final of every tournament and considering that we were playing for the first time this season, and with a number of new faces, it was a job well done," Rees said.
Hong Kong hammered Kazakhstan 29-5 in the quarter-finals and then smoothly dispatched South Korea 40-12 in the semi-finals.
Japan, meanwhile, beat the Philippines 53-5 and China 38-5 to enter the final.
"It was a real good start to the season when you think that we had Eni [Gesinde] making his debut, Jamie [Hood] taking over from Keith Robertson and Cado [Lee] making his sevens debut," Rees said.
The Hong Kong women's team finished fourth in the Asia Pacific Women's Sevens after losing 26-17 to Papua New Guinea.