The British and Irish Lions avoided a second successive series whitewash and restored their pride by thumping world champions South Africa 28-9 in the third and final Test on Saturday.
Two tries for recalled wing Shane Williams helped the Lions avoid a first series sweep of defeats by the Springboks four years after losing 3-0 to New Zealand.
The victory, which matched their highest score and widest winning margin against South Africa set in 1974, also ended the Lions’ record run of seven successive defeats. Their last win came in the first Test against Australia in 2001.
It was South Africa’s first loss at Ellis Park since France beat them in 2001.
“It’s a very proud moment. Today was very important,” captain Paul O’Connell told Sky Sports.
“It’s been a very tough week mentally for everyone and we really dug deep there and some guys produced some serious form and some great scores,” he said.
The tourists, also forced to make seven changes following a raft of injuries, looked far more organized from the start.
Phil Vickery, who was scrummaged off the field by Tendai Mtawarira in the first Test, gained revenge when he popped the “Beast” out of the first scrum and earned the Lions a penalty which flyhalf Stephen Jones converted.
A great charge by hugely impressive No. 8 Jamie Heaslip and a neat inside pass by center Riki Flutey then set up two tries for Williams as the Lions reached half-time deservedly 15-6 ahead.
Unlike last week in Pretoria when they allowed the Springboks to fight back from an 11-point deficit, the Lions overcame the sin-binning of lock Simon Shaw for kneeing and maintained the pressure after the break.
Ugo Monye intercepted a Wynand Olivier pass for a 70m try and two penalties from Jones, who kicked three in total plus two conversions, stretched the lead.
The new-look South African side, who wore white “justice” armbands in protest at Bakkies Botha’s suspension, struggled for cohesion and when they did cross the line the TV official ruled out Odwa Ndungane’s try for putting a foot in touch.
“We knew we had to dig deep and the guys are very conscious of the whole Lions ethos and we wanted to do it proud,” O’Connell said.
“The first game we could have won, the second we should have won and we were eager the memory of playing well wouldn’t be upset by a poor performance today,” he said.
“I hope people don’t misconstrue the lap of honor,” the Irish lock said. “We are under no illusions we’ve lost the Test series but a lot of people have paid a lot of money to come here and we just wanted to thank them.”
Coach Ian McGeechan, in charge when the Lions triumphed 2-1 12 years ago, said: “It was massive, the players really picked themselves up. There was such sadness in the dressing room last week so to come back and play like that again, that’s an outstanding group of players.”
“To finish off the way we have done is satisfaction but it’s slightly secondary satisfaction as we came here to win the test series and we haven’t managed that,” McGeechan said.