A Rugby Nation Welcomes Home Their Heroes

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New Zealand All Blacks Welcome Home Celebrations
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 06: Conrad Smith (L) and Maa Nonu of the All Blacks waves to fans during the New Zealand All Blacks Welcome Home celebration on November 6, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

A rugby nation welcomes home their heroes with some sensational scenes across this tiny nation over the last three days since the all conquering All Blacks rugby side returned from the 2015 Rugby World Cup (RWC) with the biggest prize of them all.

A Rugby Nation Welcomes Home Their Heroes

The celebrations have not hardly stopped since. That began as soon as the plane landed at Auckland International airport. Greeted by a Haka performed by the airport ground crew while it was seven o’clock in the morning, that did not stop over four thousand fans cramming into the arrivals lounge.

The view that players discovered as they entered the hall was amazing: flags, All Blacks shirts, face paint and handmade signs welcoming them home were all on view. It humbled many, including the head coach Steve Hansen. He mentioned how “the players were aware of the support we had back home but this is very humbling. We expected to have a bit of a crowd but this is incredible.”

Some chiseled veterans like Keven Mealamu, Dan Carter and Ben Franks all would have been thankful and ‘blown over’ by the turnout. “It’s a real privilege and an honour to be part of it and we’re looking forward to visiting the nation and to then to get home to our families.” Hansen said as he addressed the crowd.

With scenes similar to a rock band, the side has been whisked like Royalty between the three major city centres to engage with the fans who have shown great enthusiasm and passion.

All Blacks Treated Like Royalty

I mention Royalty, as the Duke of Edinburgh and Duchess of Cornwall are visiting the country, but their thunder has been certainly stolen by a Webb Ellis Cup leading the commemorative parades with the team in tow, that have almost brought the country to a standstill. Ever since being crowned three-time World Champions, the attention of the national media has been fixed closely on this group.

Royalty has no chance to compete in this rugby loving nation but on the steps of our Parliament buildings; when speaking at a public address in front of the players assembled and with cool aplomb, the Prince spoke sincerely to the gathered crowds. His royal highness praised our men and then made a clever joke in regards to what he would say on his upcoming visit to Australia (whom the All Blacks defeated in the final)

Basking in the glow of the Webb Ellis Cup, the Duke and Duchess smartly let the players take the spotlight, and how could they not. The timing of his tour could not have been better planned, but the crossing of their paths was only coincidental though as the large Wellington crowd support was a perfect toast for a tremendous three days that each All Black player and fan will always treasure.

Skipper Richie McCaw seems much more in his element this time–four years ago he was bashful in his acceptance of the glory afforded the side he lead to victory. Maybe such adulation is unfamiliar to the group, to him [a younger Richie] his team mates and the All Blacks management in general. Now he is much more refined in 2015 as the side have won back-to-back Rugby World Cups (RWC).

This maturity is evident in the way the country has embraced the players too. Ma’a Nonu described the reception as “pretty crazy really. We’re happy we could do it for the country and our supporters here,” he told NZME.

“We’re just really happy to be home.” as all the players will be but they won’t be too unhappy to see all the smiles on the fans faces. Experienced men like Nonu might have seen rugby all around the world, but this reaction had topped all those experiences. It was “special” to win this World Cup, he said.

The sight of a throng of rugby fans all taking time out to salute the players would be a sensation some less experienced players might be feeling for the first time. Fans have traveled far and wide, to see their heroes like Ben  Smith, Brodie Retallick and Malakai Fekitoa. That word ‘hero’ is not suitable to every sport, but in this country when you are an All Black it can reach that status. An example in point was as one of the vehicles carrying players drove through the parade route in Christchurch, they passed a local College.  Seen leaping from the pick-up Truck was prop Joe Moody, who felt the need to revisit his school roots.

Joe Moody a Hero to Local Fans

Signs reading ‘Moody Country’ and ‘We love Joe’ just shows how the local boy can come good; called on as injury cover, Moody was soon thrust into the RWC in the Quarterfinal against France and he performed admirably. Students from his former school Christs College will now have another former schoolboy to add to their hall of honour. A Rugby World Cup winning All Black that is.

If that is not hero status, then I don’t know what is.

The celebrations did not stop at schools though, as all industries are affected by this halo of success. The positive energy on the the Monday following victory was invaluable to this country and had many workmates talking over the cubicle walls, in the tea rooms and common fans chatting on the buses. Great for the economy too, not only in monetary gains but in that one indiscernible. A feelgood factor.

What has also been brilliant too is the banter–All Black supporters are not the most vocal fans, even in victory. We don’t often gloat but there have been some smart pieces on national media, on television and in print but the best have been at the Corporate level which began with inter-Government foxing.

Our Prime Minister, who was ‘conveniently’ at a Foreign Affairs meeting during the final enjoyed the occasion, while his opposite was lumbered with politics. They made a friendly bet and Turnball is ow forced to wear an All Blacks tie when he entered the Australian Government buildings last week but that bet was easily topped in the airways.

Aviation rivals Air New Zealand and Qantas made bets pre-match and on Monday, QF1 from Sydney to Auckland arrived with all on-board staffs and pilots adorned in All Blacks jerseys. Sometimes, following through on these little ‘wagers’ is not always good for the image, but that is where sports rivalries and good relations can outweigh any blushes in the boardroom and the best I’ve heard is from a popular 100% New Zealand ‘owned’ business advertising their supermarket. Announcing their specials, they concluded that “we are proudly NZ owned since 1976, and we Owned the Wallabies over the weekend too.”

Rugby Banter and Royal Treatment

Banter needs to have a humour or hubris to it, as Price Charles displayed. It can never be vindictive, which has not occurred on either side of the Tasman because the Australians have been gracious in defeat. Commendable to them, as they have had the better of many other sports [Rugby League, Netball and Cricket] The national sports physique is in a much better state of mind due to this International success of this group in 2015, as much as in 2011.

For the men in the spotlight, the post-World Cup party will soon subdue. The tassels and balloons will be blown away and the popular Silver Fern car-flags will be pulled down. Summer holidays will take peoples attention naturally, for the group of players it will be a huge high to come down from. Fortunately, they will have great support systems and will now be enjoying quality family time. Players and management can sit back over summer and set new goals for 2016 and beyond to the Lions tour of 2017.

For the fans, the best advice is to just relax, toast your teams success now and then plan to get ‘back to normal’. Easier said than done because none of us have experienced the shear heights of adulation that winning back-to-back Rugby World Cups. Maybe re-watch the final–that will be the go-to video for many sports fans, to enjoy that special sporting moment again and again.

A rugby nation welcomes home their heroes and Last Word On Sports wish each player all the very best. For the players, the next step is theirs. And you have to wish them each success at home, or if leaving for foreign soil. Over the last 4 days, NZ rugby fans have definitely had their fair share to be proud about.

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