A memorable Lions tour is guaranteed if every provincial game in New Zealand proves as stirring as this. For those on Bay watch over the weekend there were two more immediate conclusions: there will be no soft games for Brian O'Driscoll's squad and any player hoping to survive on reputation alone may as well go home now.
From the moment spectators started gathering on the grassy banks of the International Stadium four hours before kick-off, this was a serious wake-up call for the Lions in terms of the broader challenge ahead. Too many tours these days resemble antiseptic big-city business trips; this relentlessly demanding contest was a reminder that rugby in up-country New Zealand is anything but sanitised. When the Lions hit town, there is no hiding place on or off the paddock.
The Bay team had even less pre-match time together than the Lions but, during a 20-minute spell before half-time, managed to subject their big-name opponents to a bone-jarring examination of character and defensive technique. The five originally selected Lions who responded best - Josh Lewsey, Paul O'Connell, Gavin Henson, Dwayne Peel and Richard Hill - must already be regarded as Test match probables. This was the kind of night that separates the class act from the mere pretender.
It was not until Steve Thompson and Andrew Sheridan rumbled on in the final quarter that the Lions established a consistent forward foothold, despite looking to have the game sewn up when they led 17-0 after only 12 minutes.
The loss of the unfortunate Lawrence Dallaglio ruffled his team-mates to such an extent, however, that a furious home onslaught had to be weathered before the Lions could retreat to Auckland with a six-try victory.
Lewsey, who scored twice in the first six minutes, could have finished with a hat-trick had he not obligingly passed to Gordon D'Arcy late on. "I didn't want to get the nickname of 'Crowbar' this early in the tour," replied the full-back, asked why he had passed the ball unbidden. "It's an easy way to make friends."
Beneath the humour, though, he and the Lions were impressed by their opponents. "Statistically this is one of the hardest places to tour and that game proved it."
New Zealand is also not a rugby nation where deficiencies remain hidden for long. For all the quicksilver awareness shown by Peel for his try after Sheridan had helped splinter a Bay scrum, the Lions and All Black coaching teams will spend more time pondering how the visitors were reeled back to 17-17, the consequence of two tries scored by the powerful No8 Colin Bourke and the debutant fly-half Murray Williams.
Ronan O'Gara's tactical kicking and running of the game did perk up in the seond half but defensively the Irish fly-half had a sobering night. If the Lions wish to make their desired impact on the Test series, they will also need a more robust forward platform. "If that had been the All Blacks out there, I think they [the Lions] would have struggled a wee bit," claimed the Bay's experienced full-back Adrian Cashmore.
If anything saved the Lions from raucously acclaimed embarrassment on a wonderfully staged occasion - in homage to the geothermal activity in these parts a blast of white smoke billows from a funnel above the tunnel whenever the "Steamers" score - it was their willingness to stick together in adversity. Before kick-off the team's jerseys had been presented by their passionate Welsh coach Gareth Jenkins and even Clive Woodward was moved by Jenkins's oratory: "You hear about the passion of the Welsh but this guy is very special." If the 2005 Lions start playing as impressively as they talk, New Zealanders really will have to worry.