Tana Umaga and his Counties Manukau players were treated to a heroes' welcome at Auckland Airport today.
They arrived back with captain Fritz Lee leading the way, holding the Ranfurly Shield aloft as the team came through the arrival gates.
The 27-24 win over Hawke's Bay in Napier yesterday has given Counties the Log o' Wood for the first time in the province's history and they were welcomed home by a haka performed by the Pukekohe High School first XV, and around 300 jubilant fans.
It has been a whirlwind for the Counties players since they took the Shield and it will continue tomorrow with parade throughout the Counties Manukau region and only after then will attention turn to Sunday's first defence, against Taranaki.
"A few of our boys woke up this morning thinking it was a dream, but it's real and we've come here to get embraced by this," Umaga said.
"It just keeps getting better for our boys and it's great to see what they've achieved.
"It's great for us as a team, but also our community as well."
This is not only the first time Counties have won the Shield, but it's also the first time Umaga has had his hands on it, as he was never able to win the most prized possession in New Zealand provincial rugby while with Wellington during his playing days.
"It was pretty emotional as soon as the final whistle went, down there on the field with the players and walking around with the Shield," he said.
"It was pretty awesome today, when we were sitting in the airport in Hawke's Bay, not just Counties Manukau supporters, but people in general, who were waiting for their flights would come up and want to hold the Shield.
"That's what the Shield is about, it's a national thing. It's not just ours, but we'll look after it for now and hopefully for a bit longer."
What makes Counties' Shield win so impressive is that they had to play against Auckland at Eden Park on Wednesday night and then drive to Napier the next day, giving them little time to prepare for the challenge against the Magpies.
But Umaga said the chance to create Counties history inspired the players to give everything at McLean Park.
"It's something we talked about at the start, as soon as the Auckland game finished and when we were still on the field," Umaga said.
"A part of what we thought we needed to do to get our boys up was to say that we can't dwell on what happened or moan about how sore we are or how short our turnaround is, we've hopefully got to make some history and we've gone that, the boys came through."
- © Fairfax NZ News