Hundreds of thousands of jubilant New Zealanders packed central Auckland for the All Blacks victory parade Monday, celebrating their "ultimate achievement" in winning the Rugby World Cup.
"It's such a small trophy but what it means is huge," captain Richie McCaw said, holding the Webb Ellis Cup aloft to the cheers of a crowd of 240,000 according to local media estimates.
"It's pretty awesome. I'm blown away by the amount of people who are out," McCaw said as the motorcade inched its way through a sea of people, most dressed in black and straining to catch a glimpse of their heroes.
"It means so much to everyone who supports the team and is a Kiwi at the moment. We're so pleased we've got it in our hands. It wasn't until turning up here we understood what it meant."
The New Zealanders had been under enormous public pressure to win the crown for the first time in 24 years to appease their supporters in a land where rugby success is seen as a symbol of what the country stands for.
"The All Blacks have achieved the ultimate in world rugby -- they have won the Rugby World Cup. It is an achievement built on courage, determination, grit and great teamwork," Key said.
"These are all values that New Zealanders hold highly and I know Kiwis will be very proud of their team - they are deserving world champions."
Britain's Queen Elizabeth, who is also New Zealand's head of state, sent her congratulations to the All Blacks "for their excellent performances," said a spokesman for her Buckingham Palace office in London.
Flanker Jerome Kaino, one of the stars of the tournament described the reaction to the victory over France as "awesome" as many in the crowd burst into singing the New Zealand national anthem "God of Nations".
"It wasn't that long ago we were counting down the days to the World Cup and there was a lot of pressure on us, but to win the World Cup and have the whole country behind us celebrating is awesome," Kaino said.
New Zealand's second world crown -- coming more than two decades after they won the inaugural tournament in 1987, also beating France in the final at Eden Park -- dominated the news in a country which regards itself as rugby's spiritual home.
Repeated failures in the intervening years saw the All Blacks branded 'chokers', leading coach Graham Henry to say there was "no greater expectation in rugby than the expectations on the All Blacks".
And until the final whistle the outcome was in doubt as France, just one point behind, attacked for most of the last 30 minutes but were held out by an All Blacks side driven by fear of another failure.
"The beast had been slain, the torment which had followed the All Blacks for the past five tournaments had been erased," trumpeted the New Zealand Herald with a front-page headline which read "Sweet Merci".
"France had given them a greater scare than anyone imagined. It was a gut-churning second half as France sought their first World Cup title and the All Blacks battled for redemption."
The Dominion Post played on the French theme with "Parc de Triomphe" and "Ooh la la it was close" over a full page photo of McCaw hoisting the cup.
The front of The Press newspaper carried a full page photo of a determined Kaino bursting through a tackle with the one word "Champions" across the top of the page and "The agony is over" at the bottom.
The Press said the victory "banished 24 years of Rugby World Cup heartache".
Source: AFP Global Edition