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Thousands of people from Auckland's sizeable Pacific island community blocked streets and gave a hero's welcome to the Tongan rugby team when they arrived in the city for the World Cup.

Traffic was paralysed and the team bus required a police escort with sirens wailing from the airport to their hotel, where the fired-up Tongans immediately set a challenge to tournament favourites New Zealand.

Tonga play the hosts in the opening match on Friday and captain Finau Maka, pictured above, visibly moved by the occasion, said the emotion would inspire them when the showpiece begins.

"We won't hold back on the physical approach," the former New Zealand schoolboy and under-21 representative said.

"We're just going to take it to the All Blacks on Friday and see if they can stop us."

Maka said the reception at Auckland Airport, where more than 4,000 people greeted the team -- a larger turnout than the All Blacks received at their civic reception on Saturday -- was "just awesome".

"Today, arriving at Auckland Airport, for me, (I was) really proud to be a Tongan seeing the Tongan community. I thought we were landing in Nuku'alofa, Tonga.

"Most of us in the team have grown up here in Auckland and played for Auckland so it's pretty much like coming back home for us, so we're looking forward to it."

From the time the team cleared customs it took them three hours to cover what should have been a half hour journey to their hotel.

The trip included a stop at a suburban church with a banner proclaiming it the "Tonga supporters headquarters" and where they were mobbed by thousands more Tongans who spilled out onto the street to acclaim their team.

Digital Mag

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