Tens of thousands of people have flooded onto the streets of Auckland to celebrate New Zealand’s victory over France in Sunday’s Rugby World Cup final.
The All Blacks’ 8-7 win brought jubilation and relief in the rugby-mad nation which last won the sport’s top honour 24 years ago in the first-ever edition of the tournament.
Summing up the national mood, John Key, New Zealand’s prime minister said the team’s triumph was “an achievement built on courage, determination, grit and great teamwork… all values that New Zealanders hold highly.”
The prime minister also threw his support behind calls for Richie McCaw, the All Blacks’ captain, to be knighted, telling New Zealand TV, that many New Zealanders would agree that McCaw deserved the honour for an achievement which he compared to climbing a “remarkable mountain”.
Queen Elizabeth II, New Zealand’s head of state, congratulated the All Blacks on “for their excellent performances”.
New Zealand’s media also revelled in the glory of a team which, while long considered unofficially the world’s best side, had often struggled to live up to that billing on rugby’s ultimate stage.
Employing a pun on their challengers, the front page of the New Zealand Herald read simply “Sweet Merci”. TVNZ called the win “epic,” while the Dominion Post said “Ooh la la it was close.”
For The Press newspaper, simplicity was king with “Champions” scrawled across their front page. The Press went on to declare the end of “24 years of Rugby World Cup heartache”.
With Monday declared a national holiday, crowds were banked 20-deep in some places as players, coaches and support staff paraded through the streets on open-top buses.
By then, many New Zealanders, including members of the winning squad, had already been partying all night.
Within an hour of the team’s victory, Cory Jane, the All Blacks winger who earlier in the tournament had been criticised after being spotted drinking ahead of the team’s quarter-final against Argentina, had tweeted a picture of himself and teammate Zac Guildford drinking a celebratory beer.
But Jane admitted to Radio Sport, that anything other than an All Blacks victory had been unthinkable.
“If we had lost I don’t think we would be staying in New Zealand too much longer, probably be shot,” he joked.
Fans took their celebrations to the Auckland waterfront into the early hours of Monday, where Andrew Hansen, who was a one-year-old when the All Blacks first won rugby’s biggest prize, told the New Zealand Herald: “I will be here yelling and screaming for them all night. It is going to be the night of my life.”