New Zealand tour
All Blacks meet royalty in London
November 26, 2008
Queen Elizabeth II (L) meets the All Blacks' Ali Williams (R) as she visits the 'New Zealand Giant Rugby Ball' near Tower Bridge in central London, on November 25, 2008.
Queen Elizabeth II meets the All Blacks during a visit to the Tourism New Zealand exhibit in London © Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II attended a ball with a difference in London today -- she was greeted by the All Blacks as she was guided through a giant inflatable rugby ball near Tower Bridge.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh spent 20 minutes inside the ball as guest of Tourism New Zealand, the New Zealand High Commission and organisers of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Her majesty and his royal highness were greeted by the All Blacks, who are preparing to play England at Twickenham on Saturday.

Prime Minister John Key, on his first official visit to the UK since taking office, was also present. After entering the ball, which is 25 metres long and 12 metres high, the royal party viewed a "virtual visit to New Zealand" in the form of an audio-visual experience covering the ceiling and walls.

The ball is designed to give visitors a taste of what they can expect when they travel to New Zealand and aims to showcase the country's creative talent, landscape and technology.

The Queen and Duke were escorted around the ball by tourism officials before meeting members of the tour party, who had earlier braved the freezing conditions for 20 minutes before the royal motorcade arrived. Some team members tried to shelter from an icy blast beside the ball but despite the uncomfortable weather, captain Richie McCaw and coach Graham Henry said the squad appreciated the experience -- thought it may take a while to sink in.

"I was lucky enough to meet them a couple of years ago and it wasn't till you got home and said `Oh we got to meet the Queen and the Duke' that you realise people are sort of blown away by it," McCaw said. He said the Queen, who was wearing a silver fern brooch on her mauve jacket, mixed easily with the team -- though he had a longer conversation with the Duke.

"I was speaking to the Duke about Saturday," he said. "He reckoned it would be quite easy (for New Zealand) -- I'm not too sure about that."

Henry said the function was "pretty special". "I've been fortunate to meet the Queen twice. It's great for the young guys to meet the her. They were very relaxed and had good conversations."

The ball, first sighted under the Eiffel Tower in Paris during the latter stages of last year's World Cup in France, will be a focal point again on Monday when the pool draw for the 2011 World Cup is made.


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