SINGAPORE - After more than 70 minutes of near-perfect rugby, one moment of madness cost Singapore victory in their Asian Tri-Nations opener against a Hong Kong selection side on Sunday.
Up by four points with five minutes to go at the Yio Chu Kang Stadium, the Reds' outside-centre Blandon Tan took the law into his own hands, slapping his opponent in an off-the-ball scuffle. The 23-year-old was sent off, and it proved a crucial turning point, sparking a late charge from the visitors.
They went on to bag two late tries for a flattering 35-25 win.
What would have been the Reds' biggest victory in recent times turned instead into one of their most painful defeats.
"The red card definitely had a big impact but we should have managed it better," said dejected Singapore captain Daniel Marc Chow.
"We lacked maturity in the final few minutes - everyone knows what they did wrong so there's some self-reflection to do in the next few days."
Tan, described by his team-mates as a quiet and respectful character, left the stadium soon after the final whistle.
Singapore coach Inoke Afeaki felt the dismissal - which created a gaping hole in the side's tiring defence - was harsh.
The former Tonga captain said: "Blandon told me it was more a slap out of frustration because the other guy was in his personal space.
"It wasn't a punch - a push or a slap is not a red card. Still, he should control his temper better."
The feisty tie, played in front of a boisterous crowd of 700, saw seven lead changes and countless scoring opportunities.
Playing Afeaki's high-tempo brand of rugby, the hosts had been on the front foot, after deserved tries from Murray Wyllie, Jonathan Lee and Bryan Ng gave them a 25-18 lead.
Their opponents, made up mainly of players on the fringes of the mighty Hong Kong national team, struggled to cope with debutant fly-half Fahmy Marah.
"The Singapore No. 10 played well, putting kicks over us and thinking out of the box," said Hong Kong coach James Brooks.
"It was a scrappy performance from us; the result could have easily gone the other way."
Singapore, ranked 58th in the world, next face Chinese Taipei on Saturday. Before that, Hong Kong can win the title by beating Chinese Taipei on Wednesday.
A win will see them assume their opponents' 56th spot in the world rankings, and end the tournament on a high. Afeaki said: "If we stick to simple, technical rugby and keep our heads, I'm confident of a good result."
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