All Blacks home but 'scarred' - Henry (+photos/video)

By Jarrod Booker, Edward Gay

The All Blacks have landed in New Zealand to huge crowds at Christchurch and Auckland airports but coach Graham Henry said the team is still hurting.

"And we'll be scarred for the rest of our lives after this particular 2007 Rugby World Cup," Henry said.

He said he was not surprised by the 1500 strong crowd at Christchurch and a further 300 at Auckland.

"This team deserves that and they're the best team in the world. I know they haven't won the world cup but they've won 42 out of 48 internationals over the last four years."

He said the team has talked about being proud of their achievements and holding their chins up.

"Ok we didn't win the Rugby World Cup but we gave it our best shot."

He said the team can't do much more than that and most New Zealanders are happy with that.

When asked if there was any likely announcement looming about his future, Henry said: "I'm just going to chill out and not make knee-jerk decisions," Henry said.

Joe Rokocoko said after the loss, the team felt on their own.

"The next morning I was thinking, sharks, we let the people down," Rokocoko said.

He said the team felt 300,000 times more gutted than the fans and the team have not discussed the result in depth.

"Not everyone wants to talk about it. Everyone is shocked," Rokocoko said.

He said the team had reservations about how the public would receive them before landing in Christchurch and Auckland.

In Auckland the crowd had an opportunity to warm up before the All Blacks came through the arrival gate.

Black Caps Daniel Vettori, Scott Styris and Lou Vincent walked through and were surprised by the applause.

Pierre Malan whose Grandmother spoke French but had no divided loyalty on Sunday morning, said he was there to show the team his support.

"It's a warm reception. It was one game out of four years. Graham has given us some fantastic rugby over the years and kept the heritage going," Malan said.

Some fans made a long journey to welcome the All Blacks home. Raewyn and son Grady McMahon had driven up from Putaruru.

Grady said he was a bit sad when the All Blacks lost but the team did their best.

Raewyn McMahon said Grady and his sister were not "a bit sad" but really sad.

At Christchurch Airport this morning, All Black captain Richie McCaw said the reception the team received, when they were cheered by hundreds of fans, eased the pain of being knocked out of the World Cup at the quarter-final stage.

Hundreds of people were at the airport to welcome them and when the first of the team emerged from customs at 10.55am, they were greeted by loud roars and cheering, almost as if the Cup had been won.

There were chants of "All Blacks, All Blacks" as the glass doors to the customs area opened to offer a brief glimpse of McCaw.

He said it was a wonderful reception and the team was not expecting such an incredible turnout.

The response from supporters had eased the pain the players were feeling, he said.

All Black fullback Leon MacDonald said: "I can't believe the response is like this,"

"We never would have dreamed so many people would have come out to welcome us home. It's quite humbling."

Tamaki Heritage Village, from Ferrymead, assembled a traditional welcoming party, with a powhiri.

The plane carrying the first 17 of the 30-man squad to return home was due to touch down at 9.45am but was delayed to 10.22am.

The All Blacks arrived to a deafening roar of more than 2000 supporters crammed into international arrivals at the airport.

Supporters wore All Blacks jerseys, waved All Blacks flags and held banners showing their support for the team is as strong as ever.

Fans said they were sticking by the team because this is the time their support is needed most.

Mother Deborah Devon brought along her 10-month-old son Charlie to show their support.

"They are fantastic role models and I thought they did their country proud," she said.

"I'm here to support them and show that we're still proud of them."

The mood was in line with an poll in which 49 per cent of the first 7000 people voting said they should be congratulated.

It is a far cry from eight years ago, when coach John Hart jumped off the plane from Britain and flew straight to Christchurch, where his pacer Holmes DG was favoured to win the New Zealand Trotting Cup at Addington.

Holmes DG missed by a nose and was spat on by outraged punters - not because it lost, but because it was unfortunate enough to be associated with the coach of a failed campaign.

Fans today said they intended to greet the squad with unrestrained enthusiasm when they emerged from customs.

While reconditioning and rotation has inevitably been replaced by "recrimination" and "retribution" - and on the radiowaves "rage" - the overwhelming sense was one of regret and solidarity.

Four Shirley Boys' High School students - the alma mater of lock Chris Jack - risked detention to join a throng of supporters that steadily swelled.

"We don't care about school. We're supporting our team for the last 16 years so why not now," the 16-year-olds chorused.

"We're gutted, I was in tears mate, but we still support them," Cam Rickerby said.

"We decided to come out last night when we heard the plane was coming here."

Zak Burroughs said that while the team "choked again" they still warranted unqualified support.

"They didn't pick an experienced enough team against France. No (Doug) Howlett, (Aaron) Mauger and (Reuben) Thorne on the bench instead of (Chris) Masoe," Rickerby said.

Pensioner Margaret Johnson, 74, was among the first of the black-clad clan to assemble.

She and travel mate Audrey Browning experienced better times on last year's trip to the northern hemisphere, the unbeaten romp intended to be a precursor to World Cup success.

"We want them to know we still love them, they've done us proud so often," Johnson said.

"I know they'll be hurting and I just wanted them to know they're still all right by us."

Johnson said this was no time for animosity. "It's totally unfair. I hope they don't feel too down - I think it's really awful they're scared to come home."

- with NZPA

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