It did not end as he would have hoped, but there was still plenty for the Ireland Under-20 head coach Richie Murphy to admire from his side’s performances over the past month at the U-20 Six Nations Championship.
Their 34-28 final round defeat to France was one of best, if not the best, games of the tournament that once again showcased the skill and courage of this Ireland U-20 team (sponsored by PwC).
Alex Kendellen once again led by example from number 8, the talismanic captain picking up two more tries to take his tally at the Cardiff event to an impressive six.
It was not enough to hold onto second place in the table, but there was still plenty for Murphy to feel proud about as his young squad kept going right to the dying seconds when Kendellen crossed for his second try.
“The French had to score two very special tries against us, but both came from mistakes by us. In international rugby you can’t give teams those kind of opportunities,” said Murphy afterwards.
“That’s the kind of learning these players need to take away with them from what has been a pretty unique competition.
“Third place is not what we came for, but it comes on the back of a Grand Slam and a Triple Crown (in the most recent seasons), and we made it 10 wins in-a-row at this level with our opening two victories.
“We’ve had some good coaches working with the players over the past four weeks, like Colm Tucker and Denis Leamy, and they will go back to Ireland having learned a lot.
“The hope is that many of them will be vying for places in their provinces next season and then be pushing for full international honours later on in their careers.
“It was a shame we couldn’t win the last game, and we probably let ourselves down with our kicking game in the second half, but the French were really powerful and punished us with their front five.
“Even so, I’m immensely proud of the effort of the players throughout the competition and they have been very competitive in every game.”
After bonus point wins over Scotland (38-7) and Wales (40-12), during which they scored 12 tries, Murphy’s charges lost out to England, the eventual Grand Slam champions, in a 24-15 reversal.
Then came a major second half revival against the Italians, who led 23-12 at the break, to win a third game – 30-23 – before yesterday’s frustrating loss to France.
Murphy added: “All 34 players we brought to Wales will be going back much better for the experience they have gained in the tournament.
They have been living and training like professionals and will be ready for the news season on their return. It has been different and difficult to play every six days.
“We learned a lot as the tournament progressed and, if we have anything like this again, we will review how we use our players after round three.
“I think we’ve once again demonstrated the strength of our age-grade system with the consistency of our performances. Every year we have a new team and this one has once again done Irish rugby proud.”