Wed, 26 Nov 2008 5:08p.m.
The current kings of world rugby have taken time out from training today in London to meet the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
The royals even talked footy with the boys, Prince Philip telling captain Richie McCaw he thought they would have an easy time with England this weekend But that did not stop Graham Henry from naming his number one side for the final match of the year.
The only change from Cardiff is centre Conrad Smith returning from injury to replace Richard Kahui despite the mooloo man's strong showing against Wales last weekend. The bench remains the same as last week, with Kahui missing out altogether.
The All Blacks and the royals met to promote the 2011 World Cup, and the Queen's husband Prince Phillip had a word in McCaw's ear.
"He was asking me how the grounds were and what it's like to play at Twickenham actually," says McCaw. "We talked about the game last week and he reckoned it'll be quite easy this week, but I don't know about that."
The royals, it seems, were not amused by England's record loss to the Springboks at the weekend. Regardless of what the royal family may think, Henry wants a season finale at Twickenham and the team he has selected reflects that.
"Conrad Smith has been playing good rugby all year," says Henry. "He's the number one centre coming over here and hasn't done anything to change that. He wasn't selected last week because of a groin strain, so he's back. We're back to our number one line up basically."
Smith's gain is Kahui's loss, but he is also grateful to the young midfielder for making him work hard for the jersey.
"It's a reality of being an All Black," says Smith. "We've got used to it over the last few years. There are a lot of great players, you know they're going to play well, you get used to it. You don't get surprised or anxious, but when you do get your chance you do yourself justice as well."
The All Blacks are just one win away from a northern hemisphere grand slam, but that is not the number one motivating factor. This weekend they will be playing to honour Sir Edmund Hillary.
"It's really significant for the team," says McCaw. "He's one of the greatest Kiwis there has ever been, put New Zealand on the map. To play for the Hillary Shield is something we've talked about. It'd be cool to bring it home and we don't want it to stay here. He's an iconic man, and as an All Black to play for something with his name on it is awesome."
Should they win this weekend, the Hillary Shield would join the IRB team of the year award and the Bledisloe and Tri-Nations Cups in a crowded 2008 All Black trophy cabinet.