Few teams in world sport are as iconic and instantly recognisable as New Zealand's All Blacks. Famed and feted throughout the world, the rugby giants and their fearsome haka are also a source of huge pride to their adoring fellow Kiwis.
The All Blacks' reward for making this small island nation feared throughout their sport is the kind of celebrity status that would leave movie stars green with envy. It is certainly not for nothing that Dan Carter, the team's star, is known as 'rugby's David Beckham'. Like the former England captain, Carter - who supplements his sporting income modelling underwear - proves especially popular among female fans, a fact emphatically underlined when the All Blacks this week found themselves sharing a hotel with New Zealand's U-17 women's footballers.
The delirious response to Carter's presence certainly served as a reminder that these determined, aspiring female players are, in most cases, still giggling schoolgirls at heart, even if coach Paul Temple insisted that his players' focus had never been diverted from the upcoming tournament. Well, almost never.
"It's been a slight distraction at times," he admitted, laughing. "Put it this way: when the All Blacks got their bodies out at the pool, I'm not sure it helped keep the girls' minds on the Canada game! But it's been great to have the guys around. They've taken a real interest in the girls, taken time to speak to them, and at the end of their stay they presented the team with some of their shirts. It's been great for the girls to see how superstars like Dan Carter behave, especially because the All Blacks are such an inspirational example when it comes to sport in this country."
Temple's assertion that his young players couldn't help but learn and be inspired by the All Blacks' example was echoed by his captain, Bri Fisher. "These guys have so much experience of these kind of big games and they've been telling us some stories and passing on some advice on dealing with pressure," said Fisher. "Hopefully we can take a bit of what they told us and go out and make our country proud."
Carter will certainly be among those cheering on Temple's side as they attempt to break new ground by becoming the first Kiwi team to survive the group stage at a FIFA finals. The All Blacks star told FIFA.com he had been impressed by the Young Football Ferns' fiercely determined attitude and insisted he would be following their progress with genuine interest.
"I just want to wish them the best of luck because they're a great bunch of girls," he said. "They've been getting a bit of recognition recently and it's been great to see. We've just told them to go out and enjoy it, believe in themselves and hopefully have a successful tournament."
While this mutual respect and affection might have dampened any cross-discipline rivalry between the practitioners of New Zealand's dominant sport and the world's favourite game, Temple revealed it hadn't escaped the All Blacks' notice that the forthcoming football showpiece is capturing considerable media attention. "They were joking about all the exposure the girls are getting and telling us they're going to start taking a back seat," said Temple. "I don't think there's much chance of that happening, but it's been nice to take some attention away from the rugby guys for a while at least."
Carter and his cohorts might not be disappearing from the spotlight quite yet, but the 26-year-old - who earlier this month shocked his rugby bosses by making a surprise appearance for a Christchurch football team - insists he would welcome the beautiful game taking hold in New Zealand. This sport-obsessed nation, he says, is big enough for the both of them.
"I'd love to see the girls do well and also for the tournament to succeed," he said. "Everyone knows that football's the biggest sport in the world but rugby tends to take over things here in New Zealand. Personally, I think there's more than enough room for both sports to flourish."