OKAY, another series lost, but this was proof if proof was needed that the Lions concept will live on. Down, most definitely after last weekend's heartbreaking defeat, but not out. While those in red jerseys were more aware than anyone that yesterday's game was about pride alone, their celebrations at the end showed how much this meant.
Admittedly, a much-altered South Africa weren't the force of the previous two tests, and they had a few serious communication problems behind the scrum, yet the Lions won by three tries to none on an occasion when once again their supporters made their presence felt.
Credit to the players for their attitude and their character. Paul O'Connell led from the front, and while Shane Williams was a dubious man-of-the-match choice, he took his two tries superbly. Without coming over too green-eyed, the award could have gone to either Rob Kearney or Jamie Heaslip who were both magnificent.
With the series done and dusted, and with wholesale changes in both camps, it appeared before the off that the game was never going to crackle with the same sort of intensity as a week ago. How wrong that was.
During the build-up, the Lions understandably repeated the pride mantra, but after the emotionally and physically draining battle of Loftus Versfeld, as well as factoring in a definite end-of-tour feeling, it was hard to predict anything other than first Springbok whitewash in the history of the series. How wrong that was as well.
With so many of the new-look South African line-up seeking recognition for the upcoming Tri-Nations, and with the added impetus of playing at the famous old Ellis Park stadium where the World Cup was clinched in 1995, the odds were stacked in the home side's favour.
If you had to go back 20 years to find the last time the Lions won a final test, there was a shot at redemption for Phil Vickery who had been so ruthlessly exposed a fortnight ago, an opportunity for Martyn Williams to go head-to-head at the breakdown with the outstanding Heinrich Russow, and a last chance for Shane Williams to prove himself as an attacking force.
And at the first scrum, it was the Springbok hooker, Chiliboy Ralepelle, and not Vickery who found himself airborne as the Lions got the squeeze on. That wasn't the only good news in the first quarter as the Lions took the game to the opposition.
The threat was coming from every area of the pitch as Mike Phillips, Martyn Williams, Shane Williams and Joe Worsley surged into Springbok territory time and again. Most dangerous of all was Kearney, who produced a half of truly magnificent full-back play. If he wasn't catching high ball after high ball with deceptive ease, he was running back at the Boks with confidence and menace. Stephen Jones opened the scoring with a penalty as the Lions continued to press, and soon Morne Steyn equalised from close range.
But on came the red jerseys in spectacular wave after wave with Kearney, Shane Williams and Worsley cutting through the defence. The makeshift South Africa backline was having trouble with even the most basic passing, and on the rare occasion that they threatened, Phillips and then Matthew Rees, of all people, got back to make try-saving tackles.
The contest then exploded with two brilliant Shane Williams tries in the space of eight minutes. First, Heaslip bullocked through a couple of challenges before finding Williams with a deft inside pass. The wing finished between the posts, but somehow Jones contrived to miss the conversion as the ball toppled off the kicking tee.
Undeterred, the Lions burst downfield yet again through the impressive Riki Flutey who showed skill and awareness to flick his own kick perfectly into the path of Williams who sprinted clear. This time Jones made no mistake with the extras, but just before the break Steyn landed his second penalty to leave the scoreline at 6-15.
South Africa brought Bismarck du Plessis on in place of Ralepelle, and Ruan Pienaar instead of the injured Fourie du Preez at the start of the second half. Although Bowe scythed through following a Shane Williams assist, Pienaar made an immediate impression with a break off a slick line-out move, but just when it seemed that Zane Kirchner would make the corner, Bowe's covering tackle prevented the score.
More Springbok pressure followed, however, Wynand Olivier's floated pass was picked off by Ugo Monye and the wing bolted fully 80 metres for the third Lions try. Jones's easy conversion pushed the lead out to 22-6.
John Hayes came on in place of Vickery and there was an outbreak of minor hostilities which ended in Jones hitting the target with a penalty. The out-half landed another after he was late tackled by Du Plessis, and then Bowe did the needful again to prevent wing Odwa Ndungane from having the final word for the Boks.
Series lost, but pride restored.