On the one hand, they had restored pride after a whitewash in the Six Nations, while on the other there was frustration at not being able to nail vital opportunities in games that could have brought an even higher finishing position.
The 57-33 defeat to the Junior Wallabies in their fifth and final game was a bitterly disappointing way to finish. The good news, though, is that the lessons learned from the tournament, and the experience gained, will be well invested in no fewer than 18 players from this year’s group who remain eligible for 2024.
“There was no lack of effort against Australia, but there was a serious lack of execution. We’d seen it in some of the other games, but this time we were at our most inaccurate,” said Wales U20 head coach, Mark Jones.
“We were inaccurate at the set piece in winning the ball at key moments, and in defence there were key moments we didn’t get right or read well enough. In attack, we came second best in race to the contact area.
“We had to chase the scoreboard even though it was only 15-5 at half-time. We had missed so many opportunities by then and in the last game of the tournament, when fatigue was obviously going to become a factor, we had to chase the game and got punished.
“There were three or four really soft tries, and you can’t ship nine tries and 50 points at international level. It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth for the boys for this fixture.
“But it shouldn’t cloud our overall assessment of the tournament. There has been a lot of change, a lot of which has shone through, and the boys tried to play a good brand of rugby.
“We’ve got 18 coming back next year if selected. There are a lot of positives in there and whoever takes over for next year needs to build on them.”
As well as wins over Japan and Georgia, Ryan Woodmans’s side got within a point of New Zealand in their opening game and ran in five tries against the Junior Wallabies. They also went down to overall champions, France.
“The key message at half-time was to score first. If we had done that, we would have been right in the momentum battle,” added Jones.
“Then they scored again and that was a real blow. We stuck at it and scored five tries in the end – I thought we might have to score four or five to beat them because they are such a good attacking team.
“But I’m a little disappointed with the level of our defence. We are a better team than we showed in moments.
“There is no lack of character or talent in this group, but international rugby teaches you hard lessons. If you don’t get things right, you don’t always get second chances.
“We created plenty of opportunities, but we couldn’t nail them. They got into our 22 11 times and scored nine times, whereas we got into theirs 13 times and only scored on three occasions.
“That in itself tells you the whole story of the game. We could have been better, but that shouldn’t dampen down the progress made by this squad – we’ve shown in lots of areas that we can be very competitive.
“It is an opportunity missed to have finished fifth. I genuinely believed, based on our performances against New Zealand, Georgia and France, that we were good enough to have taken fifth place.
“Overall, sixth place is probably a fair reflection of our execution in key moments. If you give up as many big moments as we did against France, New Zealand and today, sixth is about right for us.
“We have to kick on from this. Whoever comes in to take over needs to build on the youth in the pack and bring through the players in the back line.”