Now the All Blacks have regained the No1 ranking in the IRB's official standings, the rugby year up until autumn seems like little more than a mirage. Until then, it had been exclusively about the world champions South Africa, who beat all comers and were, it was fair to surmise, the best team on the planet.
Arguably their greatest triumph was the fact they managed it all while their eccentric coach, Peter de Villiers, was rambling away in the background, doing his best to steal the limelight with a string of peculiar pronouncements. Tri Nations champions, world champions and Lion-slayers they may have been, but that did not give De Villiers carte blanche. His unique defence of Schalk Burger, who was otherwise demonised for his eye-gouge on the British & Irish Lions winger Luke Fitzgerald, brought a rebuke from the South African minister for sport.
Makhenkesi Stofile said: "I know Peter well and like him, but the more he talks, the more confused he gets. "He can get away with making colourful remarks while we are winning, but when we are losing it will be a serious problem. He will be the first to be fired and he has to sober up." And, predictably, after the boom came the autumn bust. The Springboks ended their season of success with a northern hemisphere tour of woe.
Four defeats, including two against English club sides, spoilt the veneer and allowed New Zealand to leapfrog them back to the top of the tree. Intangibles such as ranking places come and go, but what can never be taken away from the Bok players was their epic series win over the Lions in the summer. After what must have seemed an age of hearing about Jeremy Guscott and "that drop goal", it was their turn to carp.
"We have 12 years to enjoy this now," said their captain John Smit, after victory was settled after the second Test. Having already won the Tri Nations, and in comprehensive fashion at that, the Boks were in an enviable space even before setting the seal on their Lions triumph. Yet it was fair to say they actually strengthened up in terms of personnel via the series. Their formidable back-row stock was bolstered by the arrival of Cheetahs scavenger Heinrich Brussow, while Morne Steyn's emergence as a top-class No10 was confirmed by his nerveless penalty kick from halfway to seal the series.
It was a heartbreaking moment for the Lions, not least Ronan O'Gara, the Irish fly-half who had leaked the penalty. That he was dazed from a blow to the head at the time was fitting. The Lions tour was the most physically intense of modern times, with 10 players being either sent home with injury or ruled out of the tour through concussion. However, the scars of injury did little to dull the Lions spirit.
"Playing for the Lions is like a drug: you cannot get enough and as I watched the [final] game, I thought about the tour to Australia in 2013," wrote Brian O'Driscoll in his newspaper column. "I will be 34 that year, but I am already dreaming about being part of the squad." @Email:email@example.com