Centurion - England captain Alastair Cook said his team had played some brilliant cricket to win a series in South Africa but a 280-run defeat in the fourth and final Test at SuperSport Park on Tuesday was not the way they wanted to end the tour.
"For the whole five days we were not quite as good as we have been for the first three games," said Cook. "We spoke a lot about how we wanted to finish the tour unbeaten but we just haven't been good enough in this game."
Cook said the toss had been important, with South Africa batting first on a pitch which deteriorated. "But it doesn't mask the fact that we weren't quite at it."
The England captain said that winning the series against the number one team in the world was a significant achievement that would be looked back on in future years as a highlight. He said it remained a long term aim for England themselves to become the best team in the world.
"We've never pretended we are the finished article. We have still not played a complete series. We have got to be more consistent. There's a long way to go to be number one."
AB de Villiers, the South African captain, said England deserved much credit.
"We were completely outplayed in the two Test matches (that England won). They're going to be the team to beat in the next year or so," he said.
"They've got a lot of good leaders, a lot of match-winners. The future is bright for them. Cookie's a really stable captain and they're going to be force for a few years to come."
De Villiers said, though, that he was delighted with the way his side had finished the series, ending a sequence of nine Tests without a win - the longest since South Africa returned to international cricket in 1991.
"Tough times are part of the game," said De Villiers. "I never thought it was panic stations. We applied pressure for a little bit longer and did the basics a bit better than we have in the last while. Those are the things I have been asking for over the last 10 to 14 days. It's not that complicated. We just have to do the small things right. I'm very excited about our future."
South Africa made five changes coming into the final Test two down in the series.
"A couple of changes were necessary," explained De Villiers. "The guys who came in brought a nice fresh vibe, an air of confidence."
De Villiers singled out 33-year-old opening batsman Stephen Cook, whose century on debut provided the foundation for South Africa's first innings total of 475.
"He's done well and played a lot of domestic cricket. He brought a lot of experience into the team even though it was his first Test match. He's got a bright future."
Despite losing the series, De Villiers felt the win was "definitely a step in the right direction, with a bit of experience coming into the side, a bit of youth and a lot of talent".
"But we're not going to get ahead of ourselves, there's a lot of work to be done," he added.
Cook, meanwhile, singled out all-rounder Ben Stokes, who was named man of the series.
"Ben had a fantastic tour. I'm very lucky as a captain to have him in my side. In the next five or six years he can be amazing. When he's on, he wins games for you."