Wales' Kiwi coach Graham Henry created history by becoming the first non-British or Irish man to lead the Lions.
With England the dominant Six Nations force, Henry's appointment was doubly contentious and the fractures in the tour squad would become increasingly clear under the glare of media pressure.
Henry chose England's Martin Johnson to captain the side for the second time, but his selection of 10 Welsh players courted criticism.
The tour started well enough with easy victories over weak Australian provincial sides, but a brutal 28-25 defeat to Australia A in Gosford gave a taste of the challenges to come.
The New South Wales Waratahs also roughed up the tourists, whose injury problems began to mount.
A clear split emerged between the Test team and the midweek side, with the dirt-trackers complaining about a brutal training regime and a feeling of exclusion.
On the eve of the first Test, Matt Dawson famously aired his grievances in a newspaper column, his merely the worst of a number of indiscreet outbursts by disgruntled squad members.
Despite the disquiet, the Lions roared to a 29-13 first Test win in Brisbane, Jason Robinson and Brian O'Driscoll shining as the travelling supporters turned the Gabba into a virtual home venue for the tourists.
A determined media campaign preceded the second Test in Melbourne as the Australian nation vowed to give their under-fire side every backing.
It seemed to be to no avail as the Lions dominated the first half, but shortly before the break a cynical elbow from Wallaby centre Nathan Grey knocked key forward Richard Hill out of the tour.
The second killer blow came early in the second half as Joe Roff intercepted a looped Jonny Wilkinson pass for a try that set his side on the way to a 35-14 win.
The pressure was intense ahead of the deciding Test in Sydney, but the patched-up, war-weary tourists could not match the reigning world champions.
Graham Henry and Martin Johnson reflect on defeat
In another match-day media outburst, Austin Healey labelled Australia's Justin Harrison "The Plank".
But the debut-making lock rose to the challenge to deliver a man-of-the-match display in a 29-23 win.
In his post-tour reflections, Henry spoke of "betrayal" by members of his squad and called for smaller touring parties playing less games in the future.
Sir Clive Woodward, his successor as Lions coach in 2005, chose the opposite path, naming a record 44-man party for his trip to face Henry's All Blacks in New Zealand.