London (AFP) - British and Irish Lions fans will hope the 'Saracens Six' can match the achievement of London Welsh's 'Magnificent Seven' by helping the combined side win a Test series in New Zealand.
Reigning English and European champions Saracens provided the most players from any one club in the 41-man squad announced Wednesday for the Lions upcoming campaign against the world champion All Blacks.
Previous Lions tourists Owen Farrell and Mako Vunipola were joined by Saracens and England team-mates Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Jamie George for the 10-match tour which, features three Tests in June and July.
"We’re honoured to have six of our players included in the squad,” said Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall.
“Every player included is under the age of 27 which is extremely exciting for Saracens and for England, and I’m extremely confident they'll thrive in the red jersey in New Zealand," the former Ireland international added.
"Four of the players have come through the age-group system at the club and both Vunipola brothers arrived at Saracens under the age of 21, so their selection is the culmination of a lot of hard work from the players themselves, our coaching staff and support team."
- 'Massive games' -
There was a time when Lions tourists might ease up in the closing weeks of a domestic season.
But that is not an option at London club Saracens, who are bidding to retain both their domestic and continental titles.
Sarries face Irish province Munster in a European Champions Cup semi-final in Dublin on Saturday and McCall said: “All six players still have a huge role to play in some massive games for Saracens in the upcoming weeks."
Meanwhile lock cum flanker Itoje, the youngest player in the Lions squad at the age of 22, 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 also extremely happy that a number of other guys from the club have also made it and that we’ll be out there together as a strong force.
"These are guys I’ve played a lot of rugby with, grown up with, at the beginning of career watching them play and train, and now I’m fortunate to play and train alongside these world-class players."
When the Lions achieved their lone Test series win in New Zealand in 1971, London Welsh supplied seven players.
'The Magnificent Seven' as they became known, included Lions captain John Dawes and all-time great backs JPR Williams and Gerald Davies.
Together with club colleagues Mervyn Davies, an outstanding No 8 and later a successful Wales captain, John Taylor, Geoff Evans and Mike Roberts they helped the Lions record a 2-1 win in a four-Test series with one draw.
"In 1971, the only time the Lions have ever won in New Zealand, London Welsh had seven players in the squad, so for Saracens to have six players and to be the club the most represented in the 2017 squad is a huge honour, said Saracens chairman Nigel Wray.
Meanwhile the 2017 Lions' backroom staff includes Saracens' head of performance Phil Morrow, with former player and coach Andy Farrell and ex-skipper Steve Borthwick both assistant to head coach Warren Gatland.
While London Welsh were one of England's top clubs when rugby union was still an amateur sport, the professional game has not been kind to the Exiles.
In January, financial problems saw London Welsh expelled from the professional game and removed mid-season from the second-tier Championship by England's governing Rugby Football Union.