DUBAI // The UAE endured Fright Night Part Three at the hands of Hong Kong as their Asian Five Nations campaign began with a chastening defeat at The Sevens on Friday night.
The national team insisted they entered this fixture free of any psychological baggage, despite two heavy losses at the hands of the same opposition within the last 12 months.
However, the facade crumbled almost immediately, as Hong Kong charged down a UAE clearance to score with their very first attack of the game.
What followed was a procession of sustained attack from the away side which was only occasionally hindered and was finally worth 14 tries.
"The only way you learn is by playing," said Duncan Hall, the UAE coach, who now has the task of raising the spirits of his squad ahead of the flight to Japan on Wednesday night for next weekend's daunting fixture.
"Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad, but it is all experience. This is a programme, not a one week, slit your throat sort of thing because it didn't quite work for us."
Sean Hurley, the longest-serving member of the home side, can remember the good old days when the region's representative side were higher ranked than Hong Kong, and used to regularly beat them.
The change in fortunes since the inception of the Asian Five Nations in 2008, and especially since the Arabian Gulf made way for the new entity of the UAE, has been vast.
Hong Kong have not so much edged past the national team in the meantime as bullied them out of the way like an impatient driver in the fast lane of the Sheikh Zayed Road.
"The infrastructure has changed and [the Hong Kong union] have implemented a robust domestic structure," said Leigh Jones, their senior coach.
"From that you obviously churn out more international players, and we have some good depth in Hong Kong now."
Pale Tauti, the Hong Kong captain, says his side can still improve.
"The UAE didn't give up and they upset our ruck ball, so we couldn't get our flow," the powerful No 8 said.
While the landscape was mostly bleak, the national team at least had a few morsels of cheer to cling to.
Alistair Thompson, the captain, gave some stubborn resistance from No 8, as part of a defiant back row combination alongside Brett Williams and Sam Cook.
Andy Russell, the new fly-half, also provided a glimpse of his class with a mammoth penalty kick to staunch the early flow.
However, to compound the misery, Russell's evening - and possibly even his tournament - ended early when he suffered a serious ankle injury and was immediately taken to hospital for X-rays.
"The games just seem to get harder," said Thompson, who scored the UAE's lone try when he rumbled over from close range.
"We played into Hong Kong's hands because they have speed everywhere. You can't coach that.
"It wasn't reflected in the scoreline, but that was a better performance than it was in December from us, but these are short steps."
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