All Blacks: First rugby heroes return

By Ben Irwin

Most still overseas on holiday or have commitments such as the Barbarians match.

The All Blacks completed the first perfect season in professional rugby history. Photo / Getty Images
The All Blacks completed the first perfect season in professional rugby history. Photo / Getty Images

With a last-gasp win over Ireland sealing the first perfect international season in rugby's professional era, the All Blacks have parted ways for a well-deserved summer break.

A small group are flying straight home, with Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock and Tawera Kerr-Barlow among the group of five players arriving at Auckland Airport today. The group are scheduled to arrive on flight NZ1 at 7.15am.

The bulk of the squad will stay overseas for holidays, commercial work or to play in the Barbarians match against Fiji in London next weekend.

On Twitter, Liam Messam announced that he, Israel Dagg, Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden and Aaron Smith were heading to the "concrete jungle where dreams are made of" - New York - for a commercial engagement.

While Messam said he would be home on Saturday, Dagg appeared to be making the most of his end-of-year holiday.

He said in a tweet that he would be having a break in Mexico, and was excited to be flying Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic airline for the first time: "Wooooooww is a understatement @richardbranson."

While Monday's game against Ireland was the last of the year for many in the squad, some still had a bit of rugby left in them. Charles Piutau, Tom Taylor, Keven Mealamu, Dominic Bird, Steven Luatua, TJ Perenara, Frank Halai and Luke Whitelock will all turn out for the Barbarians when they take on Fiji at Twickenham this weekend.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is also staying on to coach the famous invitational team.

The next time the bulk of the squad will likely be together is at the Steinlager Rugby Awards next Thursday, which is being held at the SkyCity Auckland Convention Centre.

All Blacks feature heavily in the nominations.

In the team of the year category, the All Blacks are up against the Chiefs, Canterbury and the New Zealand Sevens team.

Up for the player of the year award are All Blacks Liam Messam, Kieran Read and Ben Smith. Messam and Smith are also nominated for Super Rugby player of the year, along with fellow All Black Sam Whitelock.

- NZ Herald

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