Northampton Saints academy coach Mark Hopley has warned his young charges there is hard work ahead after they finished as runners-up in the Premiership Rugby / RFU U18 Academy Finals.
The defending champions lost in dramatic fashion against Saracens at Allianz Park on Monday.
And having come through the youth set-up at Saints himself, Hopley is well placed to decide the next step for the latest crop of talent.
“It’s a tough one and as a coach I’ve got to make a decision with these Under-18s players going forward,” said the former flanker.
“At the minute they’re school boys and that transition from school boy level to be a professional rugby player is immensely hard.
“There are a lot of good lads and at Under-18 level – it’s difficult to say whether they’re going to push on through.”
Tries from George Furbank and Ben Richardson, along with nine points from James Grayson’s boot, looked to have been enough for Northampton to retain their 2014 crown earlier this week.
But Nick Ramsey's last-gasp try gave Sarries a 23-19 victory in a pulsating encounter, with Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder watching on.
“This tournament is about development and part of that is developing lads to win, there was some great rugby on show and some fine margins at the end,” added Hopley.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t get over the finishing line – I thought Saracens’ defence was outstanding and that probably won them the game.
“There is massive character in the group and we’ve seen that all season because they’ve been getting better and better.”
The young Saints won all six games in the Northern Conference and came into the encounter looking for revenge having gone down 32-10 to Saracens in a December friendly.
Although they were unable to make that league form count this time around, Hopley is already planning for next season.
He is targeting a third consecutive place at the Academy Finals and has tipped a few of his current squad to break into the Northampton first team.
“It all starts again for us this week and we will have to judge where we are ahead of next season,” he said.
“Some of the Under-17s have had this experience now and can hopefully drag our lads up to this level again next season.
“Players like Rotimi Segun, Will Allman and Tim Cardall put in a good shift in the final and have done all season.”
Get 20 per cent off a limited number of tickets to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final 2015. Visit http://www.tickethour.co.uk/premierrugby/ to take advantage of this great offer.