A combination of Covid and a long injury list impacted on Ireland’s U20s in the recent 6 Nations Summer Series in Italy.
Coach Richie Murphy had to delve deep into his resources to come up with a weakened 31-strong squad for the four-game tournament.
Under normal circumstances Ireland would have expected to be among the title contenders after securing a Grand Slam back in March with a side playing magnificent football.
And, in addition, the tournament organisers packed all the strong countries into Pool A, where Ireland competed with France, South Africa and England while Wales, Italy, Georgia and Scotland formed Pool B.
Ireland, who included a dozen players under-age again next season, lost two of their three group games before defeating England and then Scotland in the cross-over match.
Munster were well represented with UCC pair scrum-half Andrew O’Mahony and wing George Coomber on view as well as former PBC prop Darragh McSweeney and Highfield flanker Ronan O’Sullivan though full-back Patrick Campbell was forced to miss the first game before joining up with the squad.
Other Munster representatives included out-half Tony Butler (Garryowen), scrum-half Ethan Coughlan (Shannon), who is linked with a move to a Cork club in the All-Ireland League, and wing Shay McCarthy (Young Munster).
In the opening game in searing heat, Ireland began with a 42-21 loss to France, short nine of their Grand Slam winning side and the French duly capitalised.
They led 17-7 at half-time and increased their advantage to 30-7 with a quarter-of-an-hour left before Ireland produced a rally of sorts, crossing for two tries, but still coming up well short of their free-running opponents.
And the enormity of the challenges didn’t lessen as the junior Springboks were next up and the visitors from the southern hemisphere flexed their muscles early to thunder to a 26-3 interval lead.
Ireland welcomed back Campbell in a side captained by Grand Slam skipper Reuben Crothers and it was also the first introduction of scrum-half O’Mahony, whose appearance off the bench helped greatly improve the second-half display.
O’Mahony, whose father David played for Munster and Ireland before distinguishing himself on the coaching side, increased the tempo and Ireland prospered accordingly.
Three converted tries managed to bring Ireland closer and while the Boks only crossed once on the resumption, it proved the difference in a 33-24 victory.
Ireland wrapped up their schedule in the group with a game against England and what a thriller this turned out to be, Ireland recovering brilliantly from a faltering start to win with a last-gasp penalty in a 37-36 nail-biter.
It looked to be a case of ‘here we go again’ after England scored two tries in the opening five minutes, but once more O’Mahony’s introduction after just 15 minutes was the boost they needed.
Ireland recovered spectacularly to jump 28-19 in front at half-time after tries from Leinster’s Fionn Gibbons and James McCormick, Ulster’s Lorcan McLoughlin and a penalty try, rocked the English.
Still, the talent from the opposing bench looked to be making a difference during the second-half, when England squeezed 36-34 ahead with 12 minutes remaining.
A couple of penalties from Sam Prendergast had kept Ireland in touch and his late effort clinched a remarkable success.
The victory, however, still couldn’t prevent Ireland from propping up the table on four points, one adrift of France and England with South Africa well clear on 13 points.
Wales also won all three games in the other section to finish in front of Italy and Georgia with winless Scotland at the bottom.
The crossover games meant Ireland-Scotland rounded off their respective tournaments with Ireland having put 50 points on their opponents during the regular season.
Ireland outscored the Scots seven tries to three en route to an emphatic 41-24 triumph with O’Mahony rewarded for his displays with a first start.
Despite the searing heat, Ireland’s pace, running lines and passing ensured a blistering start, five tries in the opening 22 minutes to help them lead 29-14 at half-time and there was no way back for the Scots after that.
The usual activity off the benches in the second-half impacted on the general play, but Ireland saw it out comfortably.
South Africa overcame Wales 47-27 in the final.