All Blacks line up to honour Sir Ed

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NZPA     27 Nov 2008     Getty Images

The New Zealand captain and his English counterpart Steve Borthwick are to meet Sir Edmund Hillary's widow, Lady June, at the home of English rugby, a forerunner to the actual presentation of the trophy honouring the legendary mountaineer after the Test.

Becoming the inaugural holders of a trophy commissioned just last month has added to an occasion already holding plenty of significance for the All Blacks and their hosts.

Should the All Blacks extend their current winning streak over England to eight matches they will also complete their second Grand Slam since 2005.

England, meanwhile, require victory to ease the pressure on manager Martin Johnson in the wake of defeats to Australia and South Africa.

Success will also see them ranked fourth and receive a favourable draw when the 2011 World Cup pools are allocated here on Tuesday (NZT).

New Zealand are already assured of the top seeding so in that regard the Hillary Shield is a key focus.

"There will certainly be a talk to the boys from within (the team) about what it means, who he was, who we're honouring," assistant coach Wayne Smith said.

While Sir Ed is renowned as the first climber to conquer Mt Everest in 1953, Smith said his humanitarian work in Nepal defined his legacy.

"I actually think it's more than climbing a mountain. The shield, to me, represents what he did subsequently with his sherpa communities.

"They set up hospitals, education systems ... he'd set up one and then he'd set up another one.

"He's made a special contribution to the world. I think the shield will a big part of future rugby for us."

Head coach Graham Henry said while there would obviously be "many other" recognitions of Sir Ed's remarkable life, he was proud rugby was able to play some part.

"Lady Hillary was keen on the idea, the players think it's great," he said.

McCaw said he had been privileged to meet Sir Ed.

"It was a few years ago, he was just a hell of a nice guy. He's one of the most iconic Kiwis that there's ever been.

"He was famous throughout the world but with that he was a pretty humble sort of character.

"Some of the things he's done for people in Nepal is quite remarkable. That's why people hold him in such high regard."

Hillary, whose English link is the fact he was part of a British expedition to Everest, died in January this year aged 88.