When the definitive history of the 2005 Lions tour is written, no one will be able to blame the midweekers for letting the side down. The Test series may be lost but a hard-fought victory at Eden Park allowed the tourists to secure a 100% success rate in the provincial matches and to claw back a significant measure of pride.
Matt Dawson and Mark Cueto certainly did everything possible to force themselves into contention for Saturday's third Test and ensure a fitting farewell for their distinguished coach Ian McGeechan, who has confirmed after six tours dating back 31 years that he will not be guiding any future Lions teams "unless they bring coaches out in wheelchairs".
The result also supplied a degree of closure after a traumatic few days, although a similar description could be applied to Ben Kay's right eye, swollen and blackened by a big first-half punch from Sam Tuitupou. The Auckland centre was last night cited for allegedly stamping on Gordon D'Arcy, and Auckland responded by citing Graham Rowntree for allegedly striking their lock Bryce Williams.
Charlie Hodgson also suffered a heavy blow to the nose which forced him to retire after the first quarter, but otherwise just about every Lions player gained something from a night which demanded guts, character and commitment. "I'm very proud of a group of players who decided they were going to stand up and be counted," said McGeechan.
On a damp evening, those who put their bodies most impressively on the line included Gordon Bulloch, Simon Shaw and Martyn Williams, and Jason White made his presence felt as the 48th Lion to play an active role on this tour. When Auckland reflect on a game they would have fancied winning, however, they will find it was the two Englishmen, Dawson and Cueto, who were primarily responsible.
Dawson has had a strange tour, used so often as a replacement that this was only his second start, but he harried and bustled around to splendid effect, also putting in a couple of crucial tackles on Joe Rokocoko. "I didn't want to finish my Lions career being remembered as someone who spent most of his time on the bench," the Wasps scrum-half explained later.
As for Cueto, there was no more instinctive piece of skill in the match than the clever way he used the bounce of the ball to capitalise on Geordan Murphy's hopeful long pass. In a trice he had swayed away from the cover, created a yard of space for himself and set off on a lacerating 50-metre run which ended in his side's solitary 39th-minute try by Martyn Williams in the right corner. David Campese could not have done it better.
On a tour when creative Lions backplay has been in relatively short supply, it also emphasised that these tourists are capable of more than they showed in the first two Tests. Auckland were seeking their third successive victory over the Lions but, despite their midfield quality, could fashion only one try, by the wing Isa Nacewa, which paved the way for a taut last half-hour.
Poorly served at hooker - Semisi Telefoni was effectively Auckland's fifth choice - and fly-half, the home team might have trailed by more than 14-3 at half-time had Denis Hickie, after the most entertaining of juggling acts, clung on to a Ronan O'Gara cross-kick or the referee Steve Walsh been more even-handed.
Walsh lived up to his reputation for spotting British and Irish offences invisible to everyone else in the stadium, even managing to reverse a penalty against Kay after adjudging the Leicester lock, who had been tussling for the ball with Tuitupou, had thrown the first punch. It merely served to make the Lions even more determined and Auckland, despite the accurate boot of Brent Ward, ultimately went the way of the glamorous touchline cheerleader who opted out midway through a somersault and landed inelegantly on her much-admired backside.
"You could see there was desperation to put the tour back on track," admitted Pat Lam, the Auckland coach. "I thought Matt Dawson was outstanding. He was a real pest. It'll give them a lot of confidence going into the third Test."
Lam's assistant coach Shane Howarth felt the same way: "The Lions' commitment was pretty outstanding coming off Saturday's Test result."
The last word, though, has to belong to McGeechan, the quintessential Lions man who toured twice as a player and masterminded the winning campaigns to Australia in 1989 and South Africa in 1997. "You can't measure a Lions tour against anything else. There's nothing else like it and there has to be an opportunity for players to go on another one in four years' time."
If anyone deserved to share in one final collective success, it was Geech yesterday.