Andrew Conway created a piece of history yesterday when he became the joint top try-scorer in the history of the U-20 Rugby World Championship, but it wasn't enough to save Ireland from defeat at the hands of Wales.
The outstanding Leinster man scored his fifth try of this year's competition in Italy, his 10th overall, to secure his place alongside New Zealand's Zac Guildford at the summit of the try-scoring charts.
Conway's try apart, however, there wasn't much for Ireland to shout about as they slumped to their fourth defeat of the competition, eventually finishing eighth overall, just as they did in Japan two years ago.
It remains to be seen whether an Ireland side will be sent to next's year's event in South Africa. Player welfare issues are reported to be a major concern for the IRFU and there is widespread speculation that Ireland will not participate. Ireland coach Mike Ruddock yesterday said he was unaware of the IRFU's plans, but suggested that the tournament represented an important part in the development of future internationals.
"The one thing I would say is that it has been a fantastic tournament," he said. "It's my first experience of it and I've really enjoyed it. It's a great challenge for a coach and it's a great challenge for these young players."
Ruddock did propose some amendments to the existing format. Ireland were forced to play five games in just 16 days. "I would say that perhaps they should look at the way they handle the four-day turn-arounds, in particular, with regard to the substitution protocols," added Ruddock.
Fatigue was a major problem for Ireland under the intense midday sun. They played some wonderful attacking rugby at times, but it was too often punctuated by lapses of concentration. Most observers agreed that the defining moment came midway through the second half when Cory Hill crossed for Wales' fourth try.
Prior to that, Ireland trailed their Welsh counterparts 24-17, but were completely dominant in most facets of play. They even had a one-man advantage after Welsh pivot Matthew Morgan had been sent to the bin.
But they failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage and it was Wales who instead grew in stature.
Earlier in the game, Craig Gilroy had added to Conway's try to keep Ireland in touch and while another second-half try from Iain Henderson gave Ireland some hope, they never looked capable of closing the gap and Wales were good value for their win.
Ireland -- A Conway; C Gilroy (P du Toit 58), A Kelly (B Macken h/t), JJ Hanrahan, A Boyle; J McKinney (P Jackson 29), K Marmion; F Bealham (J Tracy 22), D Doyle (J Murphy 51), T Furlong; D Qualter (M Kearney 75), I Henderson; S Buckley (E McKeon 7-12, 45), A Conneely, J Murphy (capt).
Wales -- S Shingler; L Williams, I Evans (D Ford 61), L Robling (R James 9), R Jones; M Morgan, J Evans(L Jones 70); W Taylor, K Myhill, W John (L Smout 66); M Cook (capt), L Peers ( C Hill 53); L Hamilton (O Sheppeard 67), T Young (J Sollis 78), B Thomas.
REf -- J White (New Zealand)