Proud Lion Farrell urges calm for Eden Park opener

British and Irish Lions Owen Farrell.
British and Irish Lions Owen Farrell.
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Owen Farrell says the British and Irish Lions must go about their business at Eden Park on Saturday and not get wrapped up in the occasion.

The sporting world will be watching when Farrell and company take on New Zealand in an opening clash of an eagerly-awaited three-Test series.

Some people question the Lions’ continued relevance in rugby union’s professional era and on the sport’s global calendar, but Farrell unsurprisingly is not among them, and their endearing quality is backed up by thousands of travelling fans who have been thronging Auckland since midweek, turning the city of sails into a sea of red.

Asked if he found the relevance question strange, Lions fly-half Farrell said: “Very strange.

“When you see it, the hype and how much people enjoy it and how much the players enjoy it and how much everybody involved in it loves it...it seems like everybody else grips on to it when it’s happening, so I don’t see why anything negative is said about it. It’s very different. Because as a club team you spend every day together; as an international team, you spend 17 weeks a year together, and that could go on for however many years.

“This comes round once every four years, but you spend two weeks before you go away and start playing.

“Obviously, it’s a bit of a bigger tour to your normal international ones, but the buy-in and the amount that goes into it and how much players look forward to it is huge.”

The England star, who starts at number 10 this weekend, is used to big games for club and country.

He is already a Test Lion, has played more than 50 times for his country and won European and Premiership titles with Saracens, but Saturday’s clash potentially moves up another gear.

“It is about us making sure that we are prepared as best we can so we can go out there and put a performance in,” Farrell added.

“It is exciting. But what you’ve got to remember, though, is not to play the occasion.

“It’s a game of rugby, and you have got to think about it like it is a game of rugby.

“You can’t be thinking what other people are thinking about, getting excited about external things. It has got to be about the team and what we need to do to win that game.

“I am approaching it the same as any other (game). As a 10, you want to be adaptable.

“You obviously go into the game with a plan, but things can change pretty quickly, so you have got to be prepared, but at the same time be ready for anything and be adaptable.

“In attack, you want to obviously play to the space, whether that be kicking, running, passing.

“You have got to make decisions constantly throughout a game, so if you are making good ones throughout the game then hopefully you are doing your job right.”

Among New Zealand’s many attacking threats this weekend will be centre Sonny Bill Williams, whose off-loading skills make him a player the Lions have to stop at source.

“You have got to do your job,” Farrell added.

“You don’t want to go high on him, especially me.

“Your job is to tackle him. There are adjusting defenders around you that are going to be prepared for the off-load or be able to adjust in on him and try to stop the ball.

“They are a fantastic team and they’ve got a fantastic record, especially over here. No-one is questioning that.

“All we’ve got to do is make sure that we are in the best place we can be to be able to play the game that is in front of us,” added Farrell.

And it will be a family affair if the Lions finish on top this weekend, with Farrell’s father Andy an integral part of Warren Gatland’s coaching staff.

“I don’t think I’ve spoken to him on this tour as my dad,” Farrell said.

“It’s just as anybody else would as a playing coach.

“There are lots of little conversations that go on in making sure that everything’s covered – the basics of the week – and not all of it goes on in meetings and in front of everyone and things like that.

“He might just grab you as you’re walking past or on your computer and just have little chats about what is coming up and ‘have you thought of this, and what would you say in this situation’.

“Just so it’s covered off in your head, and then you can move on from it really.”