Owen Farrell says he entered his first British & Irish Lions adventure with an open mind but has been impressed with what he’s witnessed so far.
The Saracens and England fly-half is the third youngest player in Warren Gatland’s 37-man party and was just 17 when The Lions were last on tour in South Africa.
Farrell’s past experience of Lions adventures came through DVDs and advice from previous tourists but he was determined to form his own opinions rather than be driven by what others told him before the first squad gathering last week.
And with a training camp in Wales already behind him and another in Ireland underway, the 21-year-old playmaker insists everything he’s experienced so far has suggested that The Lions really is a step up from anything else the game has to offer.
“You come in here with no expectations. I had no clue about how it would be,” said Farrell.
“I’ve come in with an open mind and tried to get to know everybody the best I can.
“Preparation has been going really well. We met up for the first time last week and have really got going.
“I’ve really enjoyed it, going to different places, meeting new people and getting stuck into new things. It freshens everything up and is something that makes you look forward to touring.
“It’s also been brilliant as far as training is concerned, the intensity, the precision of it all has really stood out.”
Saracens and England star Owen Farrell is enjoying his first experience of life with The Lions
Farrell is the front runner to start the opening match against the Barbarians on June 1 given Jonathan Sexton’s absence from the training camps due to his commitments with Leinster.
The Irishman will be hoping to steer his side to the RaboDirect PRO12 title at the RDS on Saturday night, a week after guiding them to Amlin Challenge Cup glory in Dublin.
Gatland’s decision to name two fly-halves rather than three means both Farrell and Sexton will have plenty of game time on Tour – something that the youngster is more than happy with.
“You have to perform as well as you can. In terms of playing, you might get some more time which will only put you in a good place,” added Farrell, who insists thoughts of winning a Test place are secondary to settling into The Lions’ environment.
“Jonny Sexton’s performance on the weekend was brilliant and he’s been outstanding all year. I’m taking it one day at a time and just making sure I can be the best I can be.
“If needed I would fit in anywhere. All I want to do is put the shirt on and get ready to play.
“There’s no point being half-hearted about things. You don’t want to just dip your toe – you want to throw yourself in.”
Farrell is determined to make the most of his opportunity with Britain and Ireland's elite
Farrell will be throwing himself in alongside clubmates Mako Vunipola and Matt Stevens, with the former also embarking on his first Tour but the latter having tasted life with The Lions back in 2005.
Stevens was part of Sir Clive Woodward’s party that travelled to New Zealand eight years ago – an outing that the then Bath prop thoroughly enjoyed but one which ultimately ended in disappointment courtesy of a series whitewash.
Woodward’s squad was far larger than the one Gatland is taking Down Under as England’s World Cup winning boss took a different approach to the traditional midweek fixtures. And Stevens believes Gatland’s policy of picking a smaller contingent is already paying dividends as the class of 2013 look to build the foundations that will lead to a series victory come June 29 or July 6.
"2005 was a wonderful experience for me at the time because I was such a young player but it was a disappointing tour overall," said 30-year-old Stevens.
"Having played in better and worse England teams as well as Saracens, I know how important it is to be a closely-knit unit, to be mates and brothers in arms.
"That is something Gats is trying to work on and the boys are very open to building firm connections.
"The fact there are fewer players is also going to help build that intimacy. There's a feeling that everyone has to muck in and that's great."
Matt Stevens will be looking for a first Lions Test cap on his second Tour
Stevens was one of the standout selections when Gatland announced his squad in London on April 30, with the versatile front rower having announced his retirement from the international stage in August of last year.
But while he admits he was shocked to learn of his call up when handed the ultimate honour for the second time, Stevens insists he isn’t heading south to simply play a bit part role.
"I am not going out there to make up the numbers," added Stevens, who plays most of his rugby at tight-head and will therefore be challenging Adam Jones and Dan Cole for a Test spot.
"We are all competitive animals otherwise we wouldn't be here. We all want to be starting and that can only be good for the Tour in the long term.
"I have a lot of respect for Adam – I have played against him for the last 10 years. He is a superb player and he has a lot of good things most props want. He has a lot to his game and he is a good bloke as well, which is half the battle in rugby.
"Any international player when they retire has second thoughts and it was the most difficult rugby decision I have ever made. But it was the right choice at the time, obviously it has given me the chance to play week in, week out for Saracens and has got me in contention for this trip.
"I am not thinking about that now though, it is just about this Tour and I am relishing every minute of it."