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Sports

All Blacks return to hero's welcome

Dozens of airport workers performed a Maori haka on the tarmac as the players stepped off their specially black-painted Air New Zealand aircraft, flight code NZ1.

Rugby world champions New Zealand 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 successful defense of the coveted trophy.

Skipper Richie McCaw emerged first from the plane clutching the William Webb Ellis trophy. He and his teammates were greeted by about 4,000 black-clad supporters, some of whom had camped out overnight.

The players mingled with the crowd, signing autographs and posing for selfies with star-struck fans.

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.

Haka is a traditional war cry of the Maori people of New Zealand which the All Blacks perform before their international matches.

"The support's been amazing, so to bring this back is pretty awesome," McCaw said.

New Zealand's 34-17 victory over Australia in the final

at Twickenham in England 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.

Star fly-half Dan Carter, who has confirmed his international retirement and will now head to France, was also thrilled by the welcome.

"It's such a special feeling," Carter said.

"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," the veteran said.

ap/rd (AFP)

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