Gloucester Rugby’s head of academy Neil McCarthy was left in no doubt that the Premiership Rugby Under 18 Academy competition is the pinnacle for young players in England after watching his side in the final against London Irish.
The two teams were unbeaten in the regular competition heading into the finals day at Allianz Park on Monday after topping the Northern and Southern Conferences. But it was London Irish who came out on top after an excellent showing saw them win 35-11 to claim the title.
McCarthy said: "We are disappointed. We are more disappointed with the performance really as we didn’t get our game going at all, but that is credit to London Irish – I thought they were outstanding.
"They outmuscled us in every facet of the game, so when you are comprehensively beaten like that, you just have to lick your wounds and go away unfortunately.
"Six from six in the league was a fantastic effort. I suppose going into a final of that intensity, that level of competition, the side that can handle it the better is likely to come out on top and I thought London Irish were outstanding in that respect.
"It doesn’t take away from the fact that we have had a good season, but clearly everyone is really disappointed on the day.
"The level of rugby out there was really impressive. The level of detail in both sides’ game was outstanding and I think it is proven that this is the premier competition for under-18 rugby and the challenge for us is to keep improving."
Gloucester had taken the lead through one of Daniel Openshaw’s two penalties but Mason Tonks’ late try was only a consolation as Irish secured the title thanks to scores from Matt Kouris, Matt Williams, Harry Norton, Ollie Hasslle-Collins and a penalty try.
Like Irish, Gloucester have a proud history of producing quality players but McCarthy acknowledged they need to do more if they are to lift the Premiership Rugby Under 18 Academy trophy in future years.
"We have a rich rugby area that’s for sure," McCarthy said. "We have great education partners in Hartpury, Dean Close, Cheltenham College and St. Peter’s School which produce good players. We need to make sure we bridge the gap between the AASE league and the NatWest and these kinds of competitions because this level is a lot higher.
"The challenge for us is to make sure that those lads are as prepared as they can be because up until this game, some of the players in our squad haven’t lost a game of rugby this season, so trying to prepare them for that level of competition and intensity is difficult because they haven’t encountered it before.
"Some of these guys will roll into national age grade stuff over the next month or so. We will be sitting down with all of them and having some good conversations and some tough conversations and then it’ll roll round and we’ll be into it again next year."