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Lions victory ruins Boks celebrations

THE British and Irish Lions won the final test but South Africa captain John Smit held the trophy that said his team had won the series.

The Lions scored more tries and outscored the Springboks 74 points to 63 over the three-test series, yet world champion South Africa won the first two tests that mattered.

Whatever the outcome, the disputes over foul play, rule interpretations and whether Lions head coach Ian McGeechan congratulated South Africa coach Peter de Villiers after the second test in Pretoria, one thing remained certain.

Lions tours are here to stay and remain, outside of the World Cup, the biggest events in rugby - ahead of the Tri Nations or the Six Nations championships.

"It's the biggest jersey that any one of us can put on," Lions captain Paul O'Connell said after his team's 28-9 victory in Saturday's final test in Johannesburg. He has just come off Ireland's first grand slam triumph since 1948 and first championship since the 1985 Six Nations.

He also led the Lions to a win that tied his team's biggest ever victory on South African turf - 28-9 in Pretoria in 1974, and ended a run of seven test losses in a row. The Lions still haven't won a series, however, since their last visit to South Africa 12 years ago.

"They are tough tours but they are fabulous. Like today will be a moment to remember for a lot of guys' careers for a lot of years to come," O'Connell said. "It would have been tough to look some of those '74 and '97 guys in the eye if it had been no win, so today is a good day for a lot of them."

Big salaries

Even though the pro game has delivered big salaries, and club competitions have grown in stature, players from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia still savor the arrival of the top stars of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland in the famous red shirts and with up to 25,000 fans with them.

Springboks captain John Smit, who has led the team to a World Cup triumph and has led them 54 times in 84 tests, scored a try in his first Lions game in the opening test at Durban.

"It was an amazing experience from start to finish, from the day the Lions arrived," Smit said. "It is still one of the most prized things rugby has to offer. The toughness of game, the competitiveness of the series, how close it was. If anything should be kept, the Lions should be kept."


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