RWC: All Blacks enjoying support of a nation
Story and Photo: www.rugbyworldcup.com
AUCKLAND, 20 Oct. - The All Blacks are well aware of the benefits of being the host nation as they prepare for the biggest match of their lives - even if some of those advantages have nothing to do with Sunday's Final.
"I haven't had to pay for one breakfast at my local cafe yet, which is pretty brilliant," said veteran forward Ali Williams.
While the result of the final against France is uncertain, one thing is definite - the vast majority of the Eden Park crowd will be supporting New Zealand.
The strength and depth of that support has not gone unnoticed by the team. Even in their bubble of team hotels, training sessions and media opportunities, they are well aware of the mood on the streets.
"Throughout the whole tournament it's just grown and it's been great to be a part of as a player, to be able to see just how well the nation has gotten behind us," said number 8 Kieran Read.
New Zealand rugby fans have had to wait 16 years to see the All Blacks in another World Cup Final and, just like the only time they won the trophy in 1987, it is happening on home soil and against the same opponents in Les Bleus.
"It's just been unbelievable how much support they've shown towards us and towards the whole tournament," added Read. "It's awesome to know they're right in there behind us and we're doing all we can."
World Cup fever
For the All Blacks to have made it through to the final is the icing on the cake for a proud rugby nation gripped in World Cup fever.
"With the flags on the cars and the excitement of people getting into it, they haven't focused too much on the result, they've focused on the whole event and for Kiwis that's pretty special," said Williams.
"I've never seen the country like this in my life. I was there in '95 when we had the America's Cup (yacht race) and that was pretty phenomenal, but this is another world."
Fears before the tournament that the weight of expectation could prove too much for the All Blacks players to bear appear to have been disproved.
Instead of feeling the pressure to perform, they have managed to utilise that overwhelming support by transforming it into positive energy on the field.
"When people are roaring like that you don't miss a tackle," said Williams. "You've got that extra half a centimetre in the stride.
"It's just mindblowing the noise that's generated. It does things for you when you're playing that you can't explain".