It is not often the All Blacks are overwhelmed on the rugby field, but they were blown away by the warm reception they received after arriving in Japan for the upcoming Rugby World Cup.
- The All Blacks were met by hundreds of fans at their team hotel in Kashiwa after arriving in Japan
- Japanese school children performed a haka as part of the welcome for the All Blacks
- The All Blacks open their Rugby World Cup campaign against South Africa on September 21
The two-time defending Rugby World Cup champions flew into Tokyo on Monday, before being whisked away to Kashiwa, north-east of the Japanese capital.
Upon arrival in Kashiwa the All Blacks received a hero’s welcome when Japanese school children performed a haka at their team hotel.
The children’s performance, which was accompanied by much singing, was met with rapturous applause.
“A fantastic welcome, mind-blowing really,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
“Just so many people. Seeing the kids and the enjoyment of their faces was really exciting.”
Hundreds of fans had converged on the hotel to meet the All Blacks, with the players taking time out to sign autographs and pose for selfies.
All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams proved to be a particular fan favourite.
The former NRL star, who has played 53 rugby union Tests for the All Blacks, is no stranger to Japan, having previously played for prominent club side Panasonic Wild Knights.
All Blacks ‘getting excited’ about World Cup defence
Following the heart-warming welcome, the All Blacks indicated they were ready to get down to business in their attempt to win the Rugby World Cup for the third consecutive occasion.
Hansen admitted the All Blacks were “expected to win all the time” but he was confident his squad could handle the pressure as they look to make it a hat-trick of Rugby World Cup titles.
“For us it’s about getting excited about trying to do something that nobody else has ever done before and we are the only team at this tournament that can do it,” he told reporters in Kashiwa.
“It’s a unique challenge and if we really embrace that — and have fun doing it — then that helps you deal with all the pressure that comes with it.”
The All Blacks open their Rugby World Cup campaign against fierce rival South Africa in Yokohama on September 21, before facing Canada, Namibia and Italy in their remaining pool matches.
Their arrival in Japan came two days after thumping Tonga 92-7 in Hamilton in what was their final Test before the tournament commences.
The Rugby World Cup favourites have produced mixed form in 2019, illustrated by their 36-0 Bledisloe Cup thrashing of Australia at Eden Park, the result coming a week after the Wallabies lowered their colours 47-26 in Perth in their Rugby Championship encounter.
They also drew 16-16 with South Africa in Wellington and edged past Argentina 20-16 in Buenos Aires.
Aside from winning the past two tournaments, the All Blacks also lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in the inaugural edition in 1987.