Wales U20 finished sixth in the 2019 World Rugby U20 Championship after a final game defeat at the hands of old rivals England U20.
Head coach Gareth Williams had made six changes to the team that had beaten New Zealand U20 last time out, with perhaps a nod to those playing their final games at this level with Rhys Davies, Nick English and Iestyn Rees coming into the pack.
Elsewhere Tomi Lewis replaced the injured Max Llewellyn, while Ed Scragg was preferred in the second row and Harri Morgan returned from illness to start at scrum-half.
It was England who made the early running, and indeed dominated the first half, as Josh Hodge got the scoring underway despite the try starting with a promising looking Wales attack.
Ryan Conbeer broke down the left but his pass back inside couldn’t be collected by Harri Morgan. Winger Hodge jumped on the loose ball, brushed off a weak tackle from Cai Evans and chipped over the top of Ioan Davies to score well, converting his own try for a 7-0 lead.
Just three minutes later the advantage was doubled when a dominant England scrum allowed Manu Vunipola to nudge them into the corner, and the driving maul made it over the line with hooker Will Capon in possession, again converted by Hodge.
The early rout was then completed in the 15th minute as Ted Hill stormed through the middle of the Wales defence. He was brought down but as the English tried to move the ball right it was slapped down by Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler with the referee adjudging it was deliberate and preventing a clear try, resulting in a yellow card and penalty try.
With the score at 21-0 the game started to slow down slightly, as Wales saw out the period with 14-men and made it into the England 22 on the attack, but a lack of organisation resulted in some poor carrying, before we showed little creativity through the backs to make little ground or pose any danger.
Just before half-time the English completed their dream first 40 as Wales were penalised for holding on and Vunipola kicked them back towards the corner. A first phase strike play was held up inches short before tighthead Joe Heyes dived over to score, Hodge converting once more.
What had been totally lacking from Wales in the first half was the breakdown work that has been a cornerstone of this defence, but within three minutes of the restart Jac Morgan was over the ball and from the resulting penalty the ball went into the corner and the driving maul made it over the line with Morgan in possession.
Then five minutes later his back row colleague Tommy Reffell was over the ball, the kick went back into the corner and a second driving maul made it over the line with Dewi Lake the man on the scoresheet, Cai Evans converting both tries well.
And as the game approached the hour mark the comeback really seemed on when a tackle off the ball sent us to the corner for a third time and on this occasion it was Ed Scragg with the ball as the driving maul rumbled over.
Unfortunately at this point Wales shot ourselves in the foot, when a routine looking exit was setup only for Cai Evans’ clearing kick to be charged down and Fraser Dingwall was on hand for the easiest try of his career.
Over the next 10 minutes the physical demands of a competition that sees teams play five games in just over two weeks seemed to catch up with both teams as only a Hodge penalty added to the scores with mistakes aplenty creeping in.
Eventually England managed to string some phases together in the Welsh 22, with space opening up on the left wing for Ted Hill to score and put the game to bed, but Wales rallied one more time and a final attack resulted in Evans cross-kicking perfectly for Rio Dyer to score on the right wing.
A final score of 26-45 was probably fair, especially after how dominant England were in the first half, but Wales can take pride in their fight at the start of the second half and making a game of it right until the final few minutes.
It sums up a campaign that probably wasn’t the most quality-filled we’ve seen in recent years, but had a determination and never-say-die attitude that has dragged us to a sixth-place finish, our best in the last three years after successive seventh-placed finishes.