The All Blacks returned home to a frenzy of support on Wednesday, with airport workers giving them a haka on the tarmac in Auckland before the team triumphantly displayed the Rugby World Cup to screaming fans.
The team’s flight arrived shortly early on Tuesday morning, with the event televised live on several channels in the rugby-mad nation.
Airport workers honoured them with a Maori war dance performed in heavy rain on the runway shortly after touch down.
Inside the airport, about 4,000 black-clad supporters, some of whom had camped out overnight for a glimpse of their heroes, packed the arrivals hall to greet them.
Skipper Richie McCaw, clutching the William Webb Ellis trophy, emerged first, thanking the fans and saying the team had appreciated the entire country’s backing during the tournament.
“The support’s been amazing, so to bring this back is pretty awesome,” McCaw said.
“It’s not too bad is it?” chimed in coach Steve Hansen, gesturing towards the trophy. “We’re getting pretty used to having it around too.”
New Zealand’s 34-17 victory over Australia in the final at Twickenham on Saturday was the first time a team has ever won back-to-back World Cups.
It also gave the All Blacks a record three titles and was the first time the New Zealanders have won the trophy away from home.
McCaw said the team were exhausted after their campaign but still looking forward to a victory parade through Auckland later Wednesday, followed by similar events in Christchurch and Wellington on Thursday and Friday.
“Glad to be home, it’ll be nice to be in your own bed, we’ve been in 12 different hotels since we left,” he said.
“But we’re going to enjoy the next few days going around the country and saying thanks.”
Prime Minister John Key said the mood in New Zealand was “euphoric” and fans were eager to show the All Blacks how proud they were of the team, which has been hailed by pundits as the greatest to ever play the game.
He said even Britain’s Prince Charles, who arrives in New Zealand later Wednesday for an official visit, was keen to congratulate McCaw’s men.
“These things (royal tours) are planned months and months in advance but it might be possible to alter their schedules, certainly I know Clarence House is interested in that,” he told TVNZ.