John Mulvihill insists his side can be proud of their performances in this season's Heineken Champions Cup.
Wales’ Capital Region returned to Europe’s top table for the first time since 2013/14, and signed off their campaign with a thrilling bonus point win over Lyon at the Arms Park.
With a number of youngsters stepping up in recent weeks, the Australian believes his side have punched above their weight at times and says the squad are desperate to return to the competition next season.
The head coach said: “As a squad who are not as deep as the teams we’ve faced in Europe this season, I think the boys can take a lot of credit out of their performances in this competition. They’ve done really well.
“We’re at the top limit of where we can perform, and I think our fans, our players and our board will be really happy with the way we’ve fronted up this year in the Heineken Champions Cup.
“The players want to play against the best and they want to compete in the best competitions in the world.
“We’ve been playing in London against Sarries, going away to Lyon and up in Glasgow, against teams full of international players and that’s where you want to test yourself.
“There were periods in each of those games where we played really well, but at the end of the day it’s the numbers on the scoreboard that determines how successful your season is.
“We won two games, picking up 10 points, and probably left eight points out there. That might not be enough to get to the quarters, but we’re not far away.
“Knowing that we couldn’t make the quarters, we chose last week to give an opportunity to a few players - players like Harri Millard, Shane Lewis-Hughes and Rhys Carre - and they’ve taken that chance.
“When you give young kids an opportunity, and they take it, you have to reward them. A lot of coaches will say they can’t pick players because they haven’t got experience, but the only way to get that experience is out in the middle.”
Mulvihill paid a tribute to scrum half Lewis Jones, who came off the bench to mark his 100th Cardiff Blues appearance, and capped his special day with a second half try.
“Tomos is the number one or two scrum-half in Wales at the moment, and Lloyd has played 186 times for the region.
“It takes a special bloke to sit behind those two, hang in there and keep working hard and trucking away.
“He’s one of those players who turns up every day, in every training session, ready to go and enjoys it.
“He’s desperately disappointed when he doesn’t get selected, and we’ve had a couple of conversations about that, but I’d like to think that we’ve given him more opportunities this season than in the past, and he’s appreciative of that.
“But he doesn’t want to be third choice. He wants to be number one, and that’s the type of player you need in your squad.”
The Cardiff Blues coach was also impressed with Owen Lane’s stunning effort, which proved to be a turning point in Saturday’s clash.
“I had a go at Owen last week when I asked him if he’d lost a yard of pace cause he couldn’t get around their wing, and I think that burnt him all week,” joked Mulvihill.
“I was waiting for him to make some kind of gesture towards me after he scored, and he said he had thought about it!
“He’s beaten an international wing in Alexis Palisson, and tries like that is what Warren Gatland needs to see, and what Warren Gatland wants to see from his outside backs.
“He wants big, strong boys who can defend well, but also finish tries, and when he did that I thought to myself: ‘There’s an international wing right there’.”