Richie McCaw (Getty)
Auckland - The All Blacks returned home to
a frenzy of hakas and hysteria on Wednesday, with even the players stunned as
50 000 fans packed central Auckland to celebrate their Rugby World Cup victory.
"It's huge to come back and see all
this support and everyone turning out, it's just overwhelming," the
tournament's breakout star Nehe Milner-Skudder said as the crowd at the city's
Victoria Park roared approval.
The All Blacks arrived from London early on Wednesday
morning and celebrations began even before they stepped off the plane, with
dozens of airport workers performing a haka on the tarmac to welcome them.
Centre Sonny Bill Williams admitted it was
an emotional moment.
"It's awesome, it shows what rugby
means to the New Zealand people," he said.
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.
Skipper Richie McCaw, clutching the William
Webb Ellis trophy, emerged first, thanking fans and saying the team 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 comprehensive 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
Star flyhalf Dan Carter, who has confirmed
his international retirement and will head to France, was thrilled at the
passion displayed by fellow Kiwis.
"It's such a special feeling,"
Carter told reporters. "We're all proud New Zealanders and it's amazing to
see the support that we've got.
"We'd read about it and spoken to
family and friends back home, but to see it first-hand... it's great."
There were more hakas and a formal Maori
welcome at Victoria Park, where McCaw received the loudest cheer and was given
the freedom of the city by Auckland's mayor Len Brown.
But it was a day for the fans and the All
Blacks, displaying the same relaxed off-field attitude they adopted during the
tournament, mingled with the crowd, signing autographs and posing for selfies
with star-struck fans.
"It's a real cool buzz... the guys are
loving it," retiring centre Conrad Smith said.
There will be similar parades in
Christchurch and Wellington on Thursday and Friday.
McCaw said the team were exhausted after
their campaign but still wanted to share their moment of glory with supporters.
"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
"But we're going to enjoy the next few
days going around the country and saying thanks... seeing you all here has made
it all worthwhile."
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 and
wife Camilla, who arrive in New Zealand later Wednesday for an official visit,
were keen to congratulate McCaw's men, schedules permitting.
"There's no question they'd like to
meet up with them, they obviously can see what a big deal it is for New Zealand
and how celebrated they will be," Key told TV3.