Can wounded Lions salvage more than pride?
Johannesburg, Thursday evening
No wonder Ian McGeechan says victory in Saturday's final Test of this 2009 Lions series would be "very sweet".
If the odds were not already stacked against his side before it started, they have only lengthened as each week of their South African safari has unfolded.
Jeremy Guscott, who played in the final Tests of the 1989, 1993 and 1997 tours, believes for these Lions, Saturday will be "one of the toughest games they are ever likely to play in".
"Yes, you are still Lions and can wear the shirt with pride, but it is a dead rubber effectively," he said. "It is a bit like the third-fourth place play-off at the World Cup."
But while no player wants to play in that game, those still standing on this tour appear - at least publically - to be relishing one last crack at the Boks.
They may be without two first-choice props, and both their stellar centres - Jamie Roberts having joined Brian O'Driscoll on the hors de combat list.
But even as he laments the loss of the "outstanding" Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones, and a dynamic midfield duo that, after just four outings together, may never be seen in tandem again, McGeechan continues to espouse defiant optimism.
These tourists aim to go out with a bang, playing the same brand of positive and entertaining rugby that has so thrilled the senses these past two weeks.
If it finally yields a tangible reward, some rather unpleasant statistics will be avoided, not least extending a record sequence of seven Lions Test defeats since 2001.
The Lions have also never been completely whitewashed in the 12 previous series they have played in South Africa stretching back 118 years.
The parties of 1903, 1924, 1962 and 1968 may not have won a Test, but they all managed at least one draw in their respective series.
An inglorious statistical footnote would be a sad way to conclude McGeechan's 35-year association with the Lions, encompassing 20 Tests as a player and head coach.
He said after steering the 2005 midweek Lions to an unbeaten record that he would not be guiding any future tours "unless they bring coaches out in wheelchairs".
But at 62, his energy and enthusiasm for the whole concept have once again shone through, even if he was moved to point out on Thursday that "I don't like losing, I never have done," in case anyone thought glorious defeat was his stock in trade.
But never mind the head coach, there are other reputations in need of a boost on Saturday.
Assistant coaches Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards are not the sort of men to accept a 3-0 series defeat without some serious soul-searching, nor too the on-field leadership.
Captain Paul O'Connell will be 33 in four years' time, so another tour is not out of the question, but a player who has won Heineken Cups and a Six Nations Grand Slam does not want his Lions Test CV to read 'played six, lost six'.
Now Wales prop Jenkins has departed injured, O'Connell is the only player left in the current side who started all three losing Tests in New Zealand in 2005, although fly-half Stephen Jones was also involved in all three.
Among a side showing eight changes, four enforced and one positional, they will not be alone in wanting to salvage something more tangible than mere pride.
Shane Williams, Ugo Monye and Phil Vickery all have a bit of restoration work to do on reputations partially tarnished by recent events, while Martyn Williams, Joe Worsley, Andrew Sheridan and Riki Flutey are all starting their first Lions Test, even if it is also likely to be their last.
"They want to be there, which is very important for a third Test," noted McGeechan, who knows better than anyone the emotion that will swirling around the Lions dressing-room before and after Saturday's match.
"As soon as you leave a Lions tour, you know you have left something which is so different to anything else you are asked to do as a coach or a player," he added.
"I have seen it as a huge privilege and an unbelievable experience to be involved so often with them. I have a lot of very good memories in South Africa, and a lot from this tour."
Is it too much to expect one last hurrah from the Lion king?