Mike Phillips headed home from South Africa today having established himself as Europe's top scrum-half, and admitting: "I've had the time of my life."
The Wales number nine enhanced his reputation during a blockbusting three-Test series against world champions South Africa that ended with Saturday’s record-equalling Lions victory.
Injury permitting, 26-year-old Phillips should again prove a major player for the 2013 Lions in Australia.
He was one of only five tourists who started every Test, scoring a try in Durban and then backing up with high-class displays at Loftus Versfeld and Ellis Park.
Phillips’ bristling aggression and refusal to take a backward step meant he was at the heart of a series that saw the Lions outscore their hosts on points and tries.
Ultimately, Phillips and company suffered what he termed the “demoralising” experience of Test series defeat, but the Lions flew out of Johannesburg knowing they had given it everything.
“Losing in Pretoria was so devastating, and we had to go out and get the third Test win,” he said.
“I have given it my all. It’s demoralising not winning the series, but this was my first Lions tour and the first time I’ve played against South Africa.
“You watch the Lions as a kid, and you want to be there yourself one day. Perhaps I don’t realise what I have achieved at the moment.
“I just wanted to give 100%, and hopefully I haven’t let anyone down. It’s a huge honour to play alongside these world-class players.
“It’s such a special thing for people from four countries to come together, unite and get to know each other.”
After a miserable 2005 New Zealand tour when the Lions suffered a series whitewash and conceded 107 points in the process, the current squad has restored credibility.
But when the dust settles on a memorable six-week adventure, frustration will remain they went so close to toppling the Springboks.
“The frustration was huge in the first two Tests. I thought we played all the rugby, which is what makes it so difficult,” added Phillips.
“We were out there to play, but we didn’t have that little bit of luck. You’ve got to give credit to South Africa, though. They’ve taken the series, so full credit to them.
“South Africa is a great place to come and test yourself as a player, to stand up to them and see where you are. It’s been a massive honour.”