Port Elizabeth - South Africa were at the top of their game while New Zealand were at the bottom, touring captain Brendon McCullum said after his team suffered a 2-0 whitewash by the Proteas in Port Elizabeth on Monday.
“We came up against a team at the absolute top of their performance cycle and I can't speak highly enough of how well they played and how they never let us get into the game,” McCullum said.
“We've disappointed a lot of people back home but they need to understand this team's life cycle is greatly different from that of the current South African team and the acknowledgement of the difference in class between the two teams is an important perspective.”
South Africa won the first Test inside of three days, by an innings and 27 runs, and wrapped up the second Test before lunch on day four, by an innings and 193 runs.
The Black Caps arrived in South Africa with a young and inexperienced side, having endured the loss of their star batsman Ross Taylor and three other senior players.
Taylor chose not to tour after he was stripped of the captaincy, while veteran left-arm spin bowler Daniel Vettori was unavailable with a list of injuries as long as his arm.
Swashbuckler Jesse Ryder took a self-imposed break from cricket for mental-health reasons and right-arm seamer Tim Southee pulled out of the tour with a thumb injury.
Dean Brownlie and BJ Watling provided the bulk of New Zealand's runs in the two Tests, including a 98-run fifth-wicket partnership in the second innings in Port Elizabeth - the team's highest stand during both Tests.
Brownlie brought up his fourth test fifty, following his maiden century in the first Test in Cape Town, and Watling scored 63 in each innings at St George's Park.
“BJ an Dean were excellent in the way they applied themselves and had a really good series in the circumstances,” their skipper said.
“The rest of us will look at it as a missed opportunity while we've got to learn from the experience rather than wallow in defeat.”
McCullum admitted they were not up to scratch but had the best seats in the house to watch the current number-one Test side go about their business.
“We didn't front up when we needed to but we were also put under some tremendous pressure throughout by a team that's at the top of its game, and they provided some learning opportunities for us.
“It hurts but we've got a pretty good blueprint on how the best team in the world goes about their cricket.”
He stressed the work ethic of the team was faultless but said it was impossible to replicate the bowling of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander when they were practising in the nets.
“We have never been challenged like that at the crease so consistently from a group of bowlers and it was as hard as you get in international cricket.
“They give you no scoring opportunities and my role at the top of the order is very much about trying to take some sting out of the new ball. Three times I got through the tough periods and three times I was dismissed by Robin Peterson.
“So that's frustrating but I have no doubt whatsoever that the approach was right and we saw that twice when we took the sting out of the new ball - the middle order batsmen we have were able to prosper.”
He said while some changes in personnel were required in their line-up, it was important to not to make drastic changes to the side.
“There's no point discarding these players and then going through the same process all over again,” McCullum said.
“There needs to be a little bit of change at some point but it's important to protect the core of this group because they're the ones who had the opportunity to learn from the very best.”