Queen Elizabeth II and her grandson Prince Harry have welcomed the stars of the Rugby World Cup – including key Wallabies – to a reception at Buckingham Palace.
Harry, who is honorary president of the England 2015 tournament, said the competition had seen “some truly memorable moments”, as well as upsets such as the host nation’s elimination on Saturday.
“It has been one of the most competitive and entertaining World Cups ever,” Harry told the roughly 400 players, coaches, volunteers and referees who were welcomed to the palace.
“England may no longer be represented on the pitch, but as a nation we are incredibly proud to be hosting such a successful tournament.
“A showcase for rugby, which – I truly believe – will help grow the game through its excitement and increasing fan base.”
Australian coach Michael Cheika was asked earlier on Monday if he’d be honoured to meet the Queen.
“It would be an honour I suppose,” he said.
“I’ve never really considered it to be honest. I didn’t think about it.”
But the coach went on to admit attending the palace would be a thrill.
“This is one (event) I’m sure that everyone will enjoy doing – the lads that are going.
“I think there’s four or five – the captain and a couple of others.”
England head coach Stuart Lancaster and captain Chris Robshaw chatted with Prince Harry in the sumptuous palace ballroom.
Speaking to South African wing Bryan Habana and lock Victor Matfield, Harry said he hoped disappointed England fans would now back teams from neighbouring nations such as Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
“I asked him if he thought people would still support now England is out,” Matfield said after meeting the prince.
“He said that the people still love rugby and hoped they will give support to some other home nation teams.”
The Webb Ellis Cup, which will be awarded to the winning team, was placed in pride of place on a plinth at the reception, as Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip and their daughter Anne looked on.
Representatives from each of the 20 competing teams were welcomed to the reception.
Queen Elizabeth was presented with a Rugby World Cup participant medal by former England rugby captain Bill Beaumont and World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset.