Rugby World Cup: 'Awesome ... the feeling is just amazing'

By Yvonne Tahana, Vaimoana Tapaleao

All Black Conrad Smith during the parade. Photo / Sarah Ivey
All Black Conrad Smith during the parade. Photo / Sarah Ivey

As the crowds roared, Piri Weepu punched the air, touched the silver fern on his shirt and pointed at the throngs of fans lining Queen St.

Mr Fixit's message was unmistakable - this was a moment for a nation to share, and everyone was a winner.

At least 100,000 people massed in Auckland's CBD yesterday as the men in black, riding in open-top vehicles, paraded the Webb Ellis Cup. Auckland had seen nothing like it.

Interspersed between marching bands, cheerleaders and street performers, the players were driven two or three to a cab past the crowd.

Injured first-five Dan Carter enjoyed the adulation as he stood in the lead vehicle, putting aside his own disappointment and pumping his fist in recognition of the team's achievement.

Stephen Donald, who kicked the goal that secured the cup, followed soon afterwards, laughing at signs in the crowd that read "Donald for PM" and "Vote Donald for a happy future".

And not far behind was Weepu, riding with Ma'a Nonu and Victor Vito - the most enthusiastic, fist-pumping trio of the lot, shouting "wahoo!" as the crowd responded with "Piri! Piri! Piri!"

Nonu and Weepu later got off their vehicle, dancing with fans as the carnival rolled on.

And at the back, coach Graham Henry, veteran Brad Thorn, captain Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina had pride of place on the last flatdeck.

With them, the Webb Ellis Cup - the trophy that was back in All Black hands for the first time in 24 years.

Henry found he had a few admirers in the crowd. While everyone was all smiles, the deadpan coach spotted a sign held aloft by two female devotees reading "Graham turns me on" - and flushed a deep red.

Henry pointed and laughed, before proudly showing off the sign to Thorn, then turned to the girls and blew them kisses - much to the delight of fans who were around them.

In a break during the parade while the truck idled and the players took turns lifting the cup aloft, Henry joked about the size of the turnout: "I didn't think there were that many people in Auckland."

An ongoing roar, hoots and whistles meant it was impossible to hear much more of what he had to say but the smile that split his face had a touch of the only other word reporters could make out: "Unbelievable."

McCaw - who had colourful streamers flying towards him endlessly - seemed overwhelmed by all the hype, using the word "awesome" several times.

"It's just awesome. The feeling is just amazing and everyone, the support, has been awesome."

Asked what it felt like to hold the cup, he smiled: "It's pretty cool."

Keven Mealamu had a couple of rugby balls thrown at him, from fans hoping to grab his autograph.

Mealamu sadly called out: "I don't have a pen, sorry" and threw them back. The 32-year-old hooker said it was possible he could do four more years of the sport he loved.

"Most definitely. When you reach a life-long goal you start again and set some new ones.

"Never say never, look at Brad Thorn."

Donald said of the parade: "She's fantastic, eh.

"I think this will just create so much positiveness and unification in New Zealand and if we can get that out of it, it'll just be a superb result - as well as winning the trophy, of course.

"I'm pretty proud, eh, very proud indeed," Donald said.

"And that's just what everyone's feeling, just that sense of pride and being a New Zealander really."

The All Blacks were loving it. Henry's famous upside-down smile was stretched to its limit as he clapped his hands and waved.

"I just love these people, these are just fabulous New Zealanders," said the usually laconic coach.

And the people loved them back.

Cousins Layla Taha and Ali Mubarack, 6, were enjoying the sun while waiting to see their favourite players.

Ali said: "I like Richie and Dan Carter.

"He got injured, did you know? I was scared when he got injured."

"He almost cried," Layla piped up.

The Brindle family - dad Brett and sons 10-year-old Aidan and 22-year-old Evan - were probably some of the most patriotic fans in the crowd.

All three had the silver fern shaved on their heads and Evan also had the letters "NZ" shaved on the other side.

Mr Brindle said they got silver ferns cut into their hair on Saturday in support of the All Blacks.

"We went in to get just the boys [done] but then the people at the hairdresser's said if I'm going to get my sons to do it then I should get it too.

"If France had won, the whole lot would've come off. We would've shaved it off straight away."

The parade wasn't the only place to have fun - about 60,000 people descended on the Kiwi Day Out at the Auckland Domain to mark the end of the cup.

The event featured some of the country's top musicians, including Dave Dobbyn and Stan Walker.

- NZ Herald

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