The All Blacks have been, for more than a century, arguably the most successful international sports team in the world.
But they are more than that; even for those Kiwis who are immune to the charms of rugby (and there are more than a few), the All Blacks are ambassadors for New Zealand and a symbol of how a small country can hold its own on the world stage.
I have grown up, like most Kiwis of my age or younger, with an intense interest in how the All Blacks fare, especially against their main rivals.
The All Blacks' opening match against South Africa in the World Cup will take place this evening, after this article appears in print; as I write, I can only hope that they will win or at the very least acquit themselves well.
When I was a boy, it was the Welsh who were the main challengers for the All Blacks' crown. When the two teams met in 1953, as part of what was one of the, then, regular major tours of the UK by visiting teams, the Welsh enjoyed a winning record over the All Blacks, and they enhanced that record by winning again on this occasion.
I had been allowed to get up in the middle of the night to listen to Winston McCarthy's commentary on the match. I was distraught at the result.
It was, however, the last time Wales tasted victory over the All Blacks. Only Welsh octogenarians are old enough to have been alive at that moment and to have understood what had happened on that day.
For most Welshmen, victory over the All Blacks is the stuff of fable.
By the time a Rhodes Scholarship took me to the UK, the All Black legend had grown apace. It is my proud claim that throughout the 32 years I spent in the UK, pursuing – for most of the time – a political career, I never wavered in my support for the All Blacks. I remember being grilled by David Frost on one occasion; the famous interviewer insisted, on the eve of a rugby test between England and the All Blacks, on knowing which team I would support.
I evaded the question for a while but was eventually compelled to admit on British national television that, having grown up in New Zealand, I had no choice but to support the All Blacks, even when they were playing the national team of the country of which I had aspirations to be Prime Minister.
The All Blacks deserve that kind of loyalty and have done more than enough to repay it.
They embody so much of what it means to be a New Zealander. They play hard and they play fair. They respect their opponents but they play with an indomitable will to win, and their levels of skill and commitment mean that they usually do.
An All Black team is both an exemplar and a beneficiary of the bicultural and multicultural texture of our national life. It demonstrates many of the qualities that are essential to success in the wider aspects of life more generally – determination, effort, teamwork, camaraderie and courage.
The All Blacks' success has played a huge part in developing, in the early days especially, our sense of nationhood and the image we have enjoyed internationally.
It would be easy to conclude this rehearsal of what the All Blacks have meant to so many New Zealanders without mentioning one of the most important of the gifts they have brought us. That gift is the pleasure of watching them play – and, most of the time, watching them win.
It is the pleasure of seeing something inherently difficult being done very well – and of seeing, in a competitive environment, the side one supports and identifies with performing well and prevailing.
As for the South African match, and the ones to follow, fingers crossed! My money is on the All Blacks.
• Bryan Gould is an ex-British MP and Waikato University vice-chancellor.