Hong Kong went down fighting to defending champions Japan, losing 29-15, in their opening match at the biennial Asian Championship in Bangkok yesterday. The SAR, who played almost half of the second period with only 14 men after prop Pete Spizzirri and scrumhalf Rory Dickson were separately sin-binned, took the game to the Japanese in the latter stages of the match but fell agonisingly short of what would have been a famous victory. 'We could have won it. The players only started believing in themselves towards the end of the second half but by then it was too late,' said disappointed coach Terry Hart. Captain and No 8 Paul Dingley and Spizzirri scored tries for Hong Kong while flyhalf Rob Naylor converted and also put over a penalty. At half-time Japan led 18-10 with Dingley, playing for the first time at the Asian Championship, scoring from a tap penalty 15 metres out. 'We waited for most of the first half for them to do something rather than playing our own game. We didn't believe in ourselves,' stressed Hart again. 'And you can't play 80 minutes of rugby with two guys off.' Spizzirri's try was the completion of a concerted drive by the forwards from the 22-metre line with Hong Kong winning ruck after ruck before the Valley prop was driven over the tryline. But that effort was nullified by the two sin-bins that resulted in Hong Kong being reduced to 14 men for one quarter of the second half. The first to go was Spizzirri with Dickson following late in the second half. These incidents and a number of injuries disrupted Hong Kong. Hart was critical of Dickson's sin-binning. 'Hong Kong had been awarded a penalty at that stage when the touch judge intervened and said he had spotted Rory stamping when all he was trying to do was to get the Japanese player to release the ball. It was a ridiculous decision,' said Hart. Injuries to flanker Kelvin Yip (hamstring) and centre Dave Atkinson (twisted ankle) did not help Hong Kong's cause. 'A couple of injuries saw us having to reshuffle everything,' said Hart. All these disruptions affected Hong Kong who were within a score of Japan for most of the game. Japan were fielding a team composed entirely of local players. None of their foreign players was eligible as the Asian tournament is played outside the confines of the International Rugby Board's three-year eligibility laws. 'They scored at the death to extend their lead. Our players were as surprised as everyone else, they knew they could have done a lot better,' added Hart. While Hong Kong struggled in the lineouts, Hart praised the SAR scrum with front-rowers James Wood, Jon Abel and Spizzirri all rising to the occasion with able support from locks Tom Hall and Lachlan Miller. But Hart picked flanker Graham Black as the SAR player of the day. Hong Kong can expect a tougher match against South Korea on Wednesday. The SAR who are in the elite grouping, will complete the tournament by meeting Taiwan on Saturday.