Rugby World Cup 2011
Public embrace All Blacks
Ali Williams signing a few autographs (AFP)
Auckland - New Zealand lock Ali Williams is getting free breakfasts at his local cafe, while loose forward Kieran Read is getting shivers down his spine, such is the fervour of the New Zealand public ahead of the Rugby World Cup final against France on Sunday.
Since winning the inaugural title in 1987, the All Blacks have repeatedly failed to live up to their favourites tag at the World Cup.
Instead, they have returned home with the prospect of "four more years" of anguish ahead of them - as Australia scrumhalf George Gregan pointed out after the Wallabies knocked them out of the semi-finals in 2003.
Richie McCaw's team, however, have beaten both France and bitter rivals Australia already in this tournament on home soil - the teams they lost to in four of the six previous editions - to make their third final as they seek a second Webb Ellis Cup.
Having already beaten France 37-17 in pool play, the New Zealand public, dubbed the "Stadium of Four Million" by organisers, feel a quiet confidence heading into Sunday's final, said Williams and Read.
"I don't think you can put it into words to be honest. I've never seen the country like this," Williams told reporters on Wednesday.
"I was there in 1995 with the vibe with the America's Cup and that was just phenomenal," added the lock, referring to New Zealand's 'Black Magic' winning yachting's pre-eminent prize.
"This is another world, you know.
"I haven't had to pay for one breakfast in my local cafe yet. The flags on the cars, the excitement of the people getting into it.
"They haven't really focused on the result; they've focused on the whole event. For Kiwis that's pretty special."
New Zealand crowds have traditionally been stoic during rugby Tests, rarely raising their blood pressure enough to launch into anything but a chant of "Black! Black! Black!" that dies as quickly as it starts.
Against Australia at Eden Park last Sunday, however, and perhaps emboldened by the passion engendered by visiting Irish, Argentine and Welsh fans, they kept up a sustained cacophony throughout the match, which Williams said the team had noticed and tried to live up to.
"When people are roaring like that, you don't miss a tackle. You have that extra centimetre in your stride," the 72-Test veteran added.
"It was mind-blowing the noise that was generated, and the reality is that it does things for you when you're playing that you can't explain.
"The excitement levels get to us and the realisation that we don't want to let anyone down."
"I can't say enough of that atmosphere at the weekend is the best there has ever been."
No 8 Read, who missed the early part of the tournament through injury, had also had noticed the changed attitude from the rugby-mad New Zealand public.
"It's just been unbelievable how much support they have shown to us and the whole tournament," Read said.
"It's just been great they're right in behind us and we're doing what we can.
"Driving to the ground last Sunday (in the team bus) the amount of people cheering you on sends shivers down your spine."* RWC final odds on BET.CO.ZA: New Zealand vs France