Auckland - The All Blacks arrived to a huge welcome in Auckland on Saturday ahead of their World Cup opener against Tonga as coach Graham Henry delivered the good news that injured, dynamic loose forward Kieran Read could feature in the pool stages.
Number eight Read had been expected to be unavailable until the knockout stages of the near two-month long tournament after suffering a high ankle sprain in the loss to Australia in the Tri-Nations decider last week.
"He worked in the pool this morning and is still in the boot. So we are praying," a smiling Henry told reporters after the ceremony.
"We think he will play before the end of the round robin, that's what the doctor is saying and we have our fingers crossed that will happen. It's a pretty aggressive rehab but knowing Kieran, he'll give it his best shot."
Asked if their was a chance he may miss the tournament all together, Henry replied: "I don't think that's a possibility. It's how soon (he will play) is the question."
Although it is highly unlikely New Zealand will lose the World Cup opening match against Tonga, the All Blacks do have some concerns about next Friday's fixture at the refurbished Eden Park.
Highlanders flanker Adam Thomson is also expected to miss the Tonga game with an elbow injury leaving Henry with only three fit loose forwards to call upon, but the 65-year-old coach was talking up his options.
"(Lock) Sam (Whitelock) has played there quite a bit and (lock) Anthony Boric has played six, that is where he started his first class rugby," Henry suggested
Henry's joyful mood can be attributed to the huge welcome he and his side received at Aotea Square and the completion of their first training session in preparation for the Sept.9-Oct.23 tournament.
Under the shadow of the eye-catching Sky Tower in Auckland's central business district, thousands ignored the cold and wet conditions to grab a glimpse and lunge to take photographs of their favourite All Blacks, who were all dressed in sharp black suits and ties.
"Its good to get started. We have been thinking about this event for a long time so it is good to get it on the road," Henry said.
"To play a World Cup at home, with the support of your own people is something very special. To be able to play at your own grounds is something we really enjoy and to be around the country and playing in front of your supporters is very stimulating for the guys.
"There is obviously huge expectation, we were blown away by the crowd here today and that's hugely exciting and stimulating for the players - and for the coach."
Captain and flanker Richie McCaw led his team mates up to collect their caps, which were blessed, after some Maori singing and performances on the temporary stage.
"On behalf of the team, that welcome was outstanding," McCaw said. "To have everyone turn up today is absolutely awesome."
The All Blacks have been on the charm offensive over the past two days with squad splitting up to visit fans in smaller towns across the country.
They will have one more public event on Sunday, before locking down to concentrate on their Pool A opener.
While McCaw and Henry were keen to talk about the warm welcome they had received it did not take long before they were asked about cheating.
McCaw has frequently been accused of wrong-doing at the breakdown and the subject has been widely discussed again in New Zealand when respected British sports columnist Mark Reason claimed on Thursday the All Blacks were able to consistently infringe without being penalised.
"Old stuff which keeps coming up, a bit of imagination wouldn't go astray," an irritated looking McCaw muttered.
New Zealand are looking to win their second World Cup and first since they hosted the inaugural event in 1987.
After facing Tonga, they play Japan, France and Canada in the pool stages