Fans turn out to welcome their AB heroes
The All Blacks have landed in Hamilton to a hero's welcome ahead of their third test against England on Saturday.
More than 500 people lined the halls of Hamilton airport arrivals lounge, desperate for their favourite players' autographs.
A dozen Waikato Rugby junior teams sporting their club colours lined the tarmac to shake the players' hands as they walked off the plane.
Te Rapa Junior Rugby chairman Scott Wilson said they had seven players at the event.
"It is a good chance for the kids to meet their childhood heroes," he said.
This was the first time Waikato Rugby had organised an airport welcome. Wilson said it was something new for the children.
"Hopefully we can turn it on for them and it will lead to more tests in Hamilton."
Students from Hillcrest High School provided some inspiration to the team when they performed a stirring haka on the tarmac. Chiefs and All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick said it was "sweet" to come home to play the final game in the series.
"It will be a little bit emotional to play at home this weekend, but it is a sweet way to end the series," he said.
Chiefs captain Aaron Cruden said the welcome was an emotional way to start the week at home.
"It is awesome to see a lot of kids out here today, hopefully it continues out throughout the week. Hopefully we get a reception like this and we can just feed off that."
The All Blacks will equal test rugby's record-winning streak if they can beat England on Saturday night - a prospect they're either embracing or ignoring, depending on who you speak to.
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen played down the greater significance of Saturday's finale.
But just moments later, veteran hooker Keven Mealamu said the world record streak was a mark the All Blacks had to "walk towards" and was very much part of their thinking.
The All Blacks now have 16 consecutive test wins after back-to-back hard-fought victories over Stuart Lancaster's highly competitive England side, with the record mark of 17 shared by the All Blacks (1965-69) and South Africa (1997-98).
The New Zealanders came agonisingly close to the record under Hansen back in 2012 when they hit 16 on the bounce before being held to a draw by the Wallabies in Brisbane and got to 15 in 2010 before being tipped over by the Australians in Hong Kong.
Players are hoping for sold out Waikato Stadium to help left their game and hopefully the All Blacks to their 17th consecutive win.
- Waikato Times
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