AUCKLAND • The All Blacks returned home to a frenzy of hakas and hysteria yesterday, with even the players stunned as 50,000 fans packed central Auckland to celebrate their Rugby World Cup triumph.
Dozens of airport workers performed a Maori haka on the tarmac as the players stepped off their specially black-painted Air New Zealand plane, flight code NZ1, to be met by joyous scenes.
Skipper Richie McCaw emerged first from the plane clutching the William Webb Ellis trophy, and, inside the airport, about 4,000 black-clad supporters, some of whom had camped out overnight, were there to greet the players in the packed arrival hall.
There were more haka war dances from students and a formal Maori welcome at Auckland's Victoria Park, where McCaw received the loudest cheer and was given the freedom of the city by Mayor Len Brown.
"The support's been amazing, so to bring this back is pretty awesome," McCaw said.
Chimed in coach Steve Hansen, gesturing towards the trophy: "It's not too bad is it? 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 made them the first team to win back-to-back World Cups.
It also gave the All Blacks a record three titles and marked the first time they have won the trophy away from home.
"It's huge to come back and see all this support and everyone turning out, it's just overwhelming," the tournament's surprise star Nehe Milner-Skudder said as the Victoria Park crowd roared its approval.
Prime Minister John Key said the mood in New Zealand was "euphoric". Star fly-half Dan Carter, who has confirmed his international retirement, was also thrilled by the welcome. "It's such a special feeling," he said. "We're all proud New Zealanders and it's amazing to see the support that we've got."