More than 1500 people from all over Northland descended on Kerikeri to meet their All Blacks heroes as the players wrapped up a three-day visit with a public training session.
A big crowd — many of them kids in club shirts, kicking around balls in preparation for the day they get to pull on the black jersey — was waiting even as the team's black bus pulled into Kerikeri Sports Complex at 9.15am on Friday.
Some came from as far away as Kaitaia and Dargaville; there were even a few busloads of seasonal workers from Vanuatu.
Some spectators came prepared for a crowd, including Te Oikau Edwards of Te Tii whose gibstopping stilts gave him an extra metre of height. That made him taller even than lock Sam Whitelock.
"I've been a hard-out All Black fan from since I can remember," he said, adding that he was looking forward to the upcoming series against Ireland.
"We're going to pump them, of course we are."
Edwards was one of the locals shoulder-tapped by ITM Fishing Show host Matt Watson to take the players out fishing on Thursday.
He borrowed his sister's boat and showed loose forward Dalton Papalii a few favourite fishing spots.
"It was awesome. We caught heaps of snapper, but nothing big."
Meanwhile, 26 players from Selwyn Park School's under-9 and under-11 teams faced an early start to arrive on time from Dargaville.
Sports coordinator Tui Hutchinson said the two-hour-plus journey was worth it "because the All Blacks are amazing and because it's Matariki, so it's a time to celebrate".
Support didn't go entirely the All Blacks' way with a few Ireland fans visible amid the throng.
Irish-born and bred Eimear Nelley was dressed in green and draped in an Irish flag, though family loyalty appeared to be divided with son Patrick, 10, sporting an All Blacks shirt.
"If there's no opposition, there's no game," Nelley said.
She conceded, however, an Irish victory was unlikely when the series began on July 2.
"I think it's just too hard away from home, Eden Park being the fortress that it is."
Also watching Friday's training session was Matthew Wihongi from Orauta, near Moerewa, the proud grandfather of current All Blacks Rieko and Akira Ioane.
The 84-year-old played for Kaikohe Rugby Club in his youth and was planning to head to Auckland to watch his mokopuna play against Ireland.
Kerikeri Rugby Club president Brad Davies said the chance to host the All Blacks was "really exciting" not just for Kerikeri but the whole region.
"I'd like to think it will lift the profile of the game in the North and encourage more of our youth to get engaged with rugby."
He believed Kerikeri had been chosen because its relatively central location made it accessible to people from every corner of Northland.
"It's great to have so many people travelling some distance to be part of the occasion."
The squad landed at Bay of Islands Airport on Wednesday where captain Sam Cane said they were treated to one of the warmest welcomes they'd ever experienced.
On Thursday they had a private training session behind blacked-out fences and an emotional capping ceremony for the family of 1940s All Black Alf Budd, who died in 1989 without receiving his official playing cap.
Later that day the squad was divided up among local fishing enthusiasts and taken out on the water.
Cane said the aim of the Northland visit was to reconnect players who'd been competing in five different Super Rugby teams and meld them back into one national squad.