THE six Saracens stars who have been named in the British and Irish Lions squad for the summer tour to New Zealand have reacted with delight to their inclusion in the 41-strong party.
Brothers Mako and Billy Vunipola, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Owen Farrell will all be heading to New Zealand at the end of the current season and are eagerly anticipating the opportunity to pull on the famous red jersey.
“It was pretty surreal to be honest,” said hooker George, who was picked ahead of England captain Dylan Hartley. “It’s not something I ever even dreamed of as a kid because it was so far out of the realms of my ambitions.
“It’s just an incredible honour and I’m so happy to be doing it with the other lads. It’s great to be on the tour – it’ll be a nervous time the first week or so, but it’ll make all the difference having the other Saracens guys around me.
“Obviously the likes of Owen and Mako have been there and done it, so I can sort of pick their brains about how it works and what I need to do.
“It’s just incredible for the club and everyone involved but it’s disappointing for some of our other lads who deserved it as much as we did.”
Like George, lock Kruis has been selected for the first time, and he expressed his relief at getting the call after only just making his comeback from a lengthy injury lay-off last weekend.
“I was pretty nervous,” he said. “We watched the announcement with 40 to 50 lads in the team room screaming and shouting. It’s a massive achievement.
“I think if you look at the squad and everything like that, it shows that a lot of work has gone into producing talent and then holding on to it, so huge credit goes to everyone at Saracens.
“It’s huge, I’m happy not just for myself but for the other lads who’ve made it. We’re extremely happy that a good group of us has made it. We’ve been building something here for a long time and put a lot of hard work into it, so it’s just right that the lads are getting the recognition they deserve.”
Kruis has formed an impressive second-row pairing for club and country with Itoje, who is also relishing the prospect of heading to New Zealand with the Lions.
“I feel pretty good,” Itoje said. “No matter when you start playing rugby or how long you’ve played rugby, you want to be part of the British and Irish Lions – I’m absolutely over the moon to have the opportunity to do so.
“I’m also extremely happy that a number of other guys from the club have made it as well and that we’ll be out there together as a strong force.
“It means a lot to be selected alongside five other Saracens. These are guys I’ve played a lot of rugby with, grown up with and now I’m fortunate to play and train alongside these world-class players. To be alongside them is a real honour for me and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.”
Billy Vunipola is the fourth of the Sarries six to have been selected the the Lions for a first time, and he expressed his delight at hearing his name called out.
“I was just overjoyed that I managed to sneak into the squad,” he said. “It’s always been a goal for myself so it’s a massive honour.
“It’s a huge testament to the work that goes on here and all the coaches here run a great ship. We have great coaches, we have great players and we have great people so it’s not really a surprise to me to see as many people in there as we have and hopefully we can make an impact when we get to New Zealand.”
Unlike the other four to have been selected, Mako Vunipola and Farrell will be involved in their second Lions tours – having been in the squad in Australia four years ago – but they are equally thrilled with their call-ups.
“I’m delighted to be going,” Mako Vunipola said. “At Sarries we talk about special bonds and forging close relationships. We have a really tight-knight group and the celebrations when the lads were named in the squad really proved that. We enjoy being around each other and sharing those kind of moments together as a group.
“It’s amazing to have so many from one club, and every player who has been selected is there on merit. I’m delighted to be in the squad, but I’m even happier to be among the other guys picked alongside me.
“There’s obviously a few lads disappointed in the group but we still have a big season ahead of us to rally around each other. We’re just thankful that the first step has been made ahead of a big few weeks for all of us.”
Farrell added: “I’m chuffed for everyone who is involved but also disappointed for a few lads who aren’t involved as well. A lot of us are around the same age, we’ve come through the ranks at Saracens together, so it’s even more exciting that we get to share this opportunity.
“We still have a lot of rugby to play here are the club, but when the season is over at Saracens it will be very exciting to look forward to the tour.”