TENS of thousands of people flooded onto the streets of downtown Auckland yesterday to celebrate the end of the All Blacks' 24-year drought for a World Cup victory.
New Zealand had not won the Webb Ellis trophy since the inaugural tournament in 1987 and were forced to dig deep in Sunday's final as they rode a wave of emotion across the rugby-mad country of four million to scratch out a 8-7 victory against France at a packed Eden Park. With yesterday a public holiday in New Zealand, the collective hangover of the country's largest city was still palpable as people gathered early for the victors' parade, mixing with stragglers making their way home from late-night festivities.
Crowds were banked 20-deep in places along the parade's route as players, coaches and support staff were ferried along city streets in a convoy of open-deck vehicles.
"This is very special. I can't believe how many people are out here ... This is just awesome," said All Blacks fly-half Daniel Carter, whose tournament finished early with a torn groin tendon.
The joyous outpouring, the largest since Team New Zealand won yachting's greatest prize for the first time with their 1995 America's Cup win, left the players amazed by the turnout.
"It's a great day. Just shows how much it means to everyone in New Zealand and it's great to be part of it," said scrum-half Andy Ellis.
Captain Richie McCaw and coach Graham Henry paraded the Webb Ellis trophy in the final car, with veterans Brad Thorn and Mils Muliaina and assistant coach Wayne Smith, all of whom ended their All Blacks careers at the tournament.
Meanwhile, the All Blacks have taken the trophy to Christchurch, which lost its World Cup matches when a February earthquake -- 182 people were killed -- forced the closure of the city's main stadium.
Thousands of fans turned out at Hagley Park, near the still cordoned-off city centre, to greet the team.