A deafening roar broke out when the All Blacks came through the arrivals hall at Auckland Airport with skipper Richie McCaw carrying the Rugby World Cup.
McCaw, with the Webb Ellis Cup tucked under one arm, strode into the international terminal to a deafening roar, 72 hours after his team clinched their third world title in London.
Thousands of supporters were on hand to welcome home the champions in a first for New Zealand rugby, following five failed offshore campaigns.
Never before they have returned home with rugby’s biggest prize, having won their previous titles on home soil in 1987 and 2011.
The players immediately set about signing autographs and posing for selfies as McCaw and coach Steve Hansen addressed the crowd.
McCaw thanked the large turnout at an early hour, which he says confirmed the support they could sense throughout their seven-week campaign in the United Kingdom.
“To bring this back is pretty awesome. We’re going to enjoy the next few days going around the country and saying thanks,” he said.
Hansen expressed his gratitude and lit up when asked about the silverware his team had won for the second straight tournament.
“It’s not too bad is it. We’re starting to get used to having it around too.”
Departing five-eighth Dan Carter, one of seven squad members who have confirmed they won’t play next year, says the reception was the perfect way to cap the highlight of his glittering career.
“It’s a dream homecoming really. The guys have been pretty excited over the last 24 hours knowing that we were so close to getting back on home soil,” Carter said.
The All Blacks got an early taste of the excitement levels soon after landing, with a 30-strong ground crew performing a haka when the plane pulled to halt on the tarmac.
Numbers steadily built as the All Blacks’ flight arrival time approached.
Most of the fans were in black, and many carried flags and signs.
At one stage, they broke in chants of “All Blacks, All Blacks”.
As the crowd continued their wait, there was a spontaneous rendition of the national them and then Pokarekare Ana.
After the All Blacks emerged into the arrivals hall the players mixed with fans and 10-year-old Zoe Alibangbang did manage to get an autograph, giving her plenty to talk about in class at Willow Park School.
She was particularly excited that the player who signed her book was her favourite All Black – Richie McCaw.
Later on Wednesday, the All Blacks will be guests of honour at a celebration event at Victoria Park in central Auckland starting at midday.
There will also be parades for the team in Christchurch on Thursday and in Wellington on Friday.