WELLINGTON, November 6 – Britain’s Prince Charles scrapped his New Zealand tour schedule Friday to congratulate the All Blacks on their Rugby World Cup win, delighting locals with a joke about losing finalists Australia.
Charles and wife Camilla were supposed to enjoy a rest day in Wellington on Friday but instead joined tens of thousands of people in the capital for an All Blacks victory parade.
Addressing the team, Charles drew raucous applause when he played up New Zealand’s rivalry with the next stop on his tour Down Under, Australia, who the All Blacks trounced 34-17 in the final.
“We’ve just travelled, what, 11,683 miles (18,800 km), to come here to congratulate the best rugby team in the world,” he said.
“But, ladies and gentlemen, what the hell am I going to say to the Aussies next week?”
Tens of thousands of people lined the streets for the final leg of a victory tour that has already taken in Auckland and Christchurch.
The rugby-mad nation is still euphoric over the victory that made the All Blacks the first team to win back-to-back World Cups and delivered a record third title.
It is the last time the 2015 winners will be together this year and skipper Richie McCaw remained coy about whether he will hang up his boots or add to his world record 148 Test caps.
“I don’t know about that,” the 34-year-old told the crowd when asked if he would be back to lead the team next year, before adding:
“It’s one of those things that you never, ever want to give up, because there’s nothing more special than wearing a black jersey and representing your country.
“I know all these men never take it for granted, they’re hugely grateful that they get that opportunity.”
The Wellington parade gave several senior All Blacks a chance to take the World Cup on an unscheduled detour to a cemetery on the outskirts of town for an emotional graveside tribute to fallen teammate Jerry Collins.
A number of players posted pictures on social media late Thursday of themselves at the grave of the former All Black, who died in a car crash in France last June 5.
“Good to share this one with the brother. Love you JC,” Dan Carter posted on Instagram, with a graveside picture of himself, Sonny Bill Williams, Jerome Kaino, Liam Messam and Ma’a Nonu.
Thursday would have been Collins’ 35th birthday and Kaino tweeted “Happy belated birthday USO (brother)! Love you… always got you”.
Known as the “human wrecking ball” who played with a smile on his face, Collins appeared in 48 Tests for the All Blacks, including three as captain.
He and partner Alana Madill were killed, with three-month-old daughter Ayla seriously injured, when a bus ploughed into the back of their car near Beziers.