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The Queen and Wills meet England's rugby heroes

8 December 2003
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The Queen and Prince William looked to be thoroughly enjoying themselves when they welcomed the World Cup-winning English rugby team to Buckingham Palace on Monday.

There were obviously a few jokes being shared, with Her Majesty breaking into laughter several times while chatting with the burly athletes.

Captain Martin Johnson and the rest of the squad were earlier applauded by 750,000 well-wishers as they made their way through London on an open-top bus. The athletes have been hailed as national heroes since they returned from Australia with the coveted Webb Ellis Cup.

"I'm surprised it's all in one piece," quipped the Queen when she was presented with the trophy. "You've been carrying it around for several days."

Prince William, Zara Phillips, Princess Anne and the Duke of Kent also turned out for the reception, along with Prime Minister Tony Blair. And Wills was eager to chat with reluctant star Jonny Wilkinson, who scored England's winning drop goal.

"He was asking me about my feet because of the amount of kicking I've been doing," revealed Jonny. "I've met him on quite a few occasions – he's so easy to get on with."

His team-mate Mike Tindall meanwhile did his best to quash rumours of a romance with Zara Phillips, despite some good-natured jibes from the rest of the squad. There has been widespread tabloid speculation about the pair since Zara invited him to the North Cotswold's Hunt Dance on Saturday.

"She asked me if I fancied going to the ball and I replied that I'd never been to one and I'd give it a crack," revealed Mike. "So we went and it was enjoyable, but this was really just about going to a ball with a mate."

It was one of the Queen's corgis who provoked the biggest laugh of the afternoon, however. When the squad took their seats to have their picture taken with the monarch, a pooch called Berry invaded the shot. And despite Prince William's repeated attempts to lead the animal away, it stubbornly insisted on having its picture taken.

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Martin Johnson towers over the Queen, as Prince William and coach Clive Woodward look onPhoto: © AFP y
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Her Majesty shares a joke with kicking maestro Jonny Wilkinson and his girlfriend Diana StewartPhoto: © AFP
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The team were cheered on by huge crowds as they made their way through London in an open-top busPhoto: © AFP