Matt Stevens will be looking for a first Lions Test cap on his second tour after the travelling squad touched down in Hong Kong earlier today.
The Lions face the Barbarians in the Far East on Saturday before heading off to Australia and the three test 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.”
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.
“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.”