10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
There is an attractive double header available to Leinster fans, as Lansdowne host Shannon on Lansdowne Road's back pitch prior to the Leinster v Bath Heineken Cup match.
Both sides have only played one league match but Lansdowne could badly use a win here, as they well beaten (23-3) in their opener by UCD. Two defeats to kick off with might presage a season in the nether regions of the division.
Yet it's difficult to predict anything other than a home defeat, given Shannon's league history, their opening win against Blackrock (24-11) and the fresh impetus they have been given under Mick Galwey's stewardship. While they were pushed hard by Blackrock for over an hour in their win, in which they were flattered by the margin, and taking into account that they are the away team, the likelihood is that they will have too much in the tank for Lansdowne.
The other Division One fixture sees Ballymena make the long trip to Cork Constitution. Both are sides that expect to be challenging at the top of the table, but one of them is going to be stuck winless after two matches. So once again, there is a lot to play for here in terms of setting out one's stall for the season ahead. Ballymena were beaten at their home fortress by Clontarf in week one, by just a single point (21-20) in a high-quality game against a side expected to go close this season. So while disappointed, it doesn't suggest anything terminal. Cork Con, meanwhile, went down away to Buccaneers (18-12), whose platform was established by their big pack. This could be a cracking match and is very tough to call, but home advantage might just be sufficient to swing it for the Corkmen.
There are a few cracking fixtures scheduled in Division Two, with the pick of them probably being rejuvenated leaders St. Mary's, on 9 points, away to Bective Rangers, in joint second on 8 points. Others, though, to whet the appetite include the Cork clash of Dolphin, also in joint second place, away to sixth-placed Highfield. At the other end of the table there are desperate jousts ahead for UCC at home to Old Belvedere, locked together on one point each; Malone (0 pts) at home to Waterpark (1 pt) and Barnhall (1 pt) at home to Thomond (2 pts). The Midleton v Terenure and Old Crescent v UL Bohemians clashes offer all four teams the opportunity to put themselves in a challenging position.
In Division Three joint leaders Clonakilty can be expected to continue their winning start away to joint-bottom placed Ballina, while Sunday's Well will have to beat a decent Queen's side to match them, though they have home advantage. Also unbeaten, Connemara and Cortinthians will be looking to take advantage of any slip-ups with home fixtures against Wanderers and the struggling Instonians respectively. Greystones host Old Wesley in what could have been a top of Division One clash from the past, with both sides looking to establish a challenging position, while City of Derry and the upwardly mobile Bruff are seeking to achieve the same at each other's expense.
Despite all the rain through the week, the forecast for the weekend is actually good, so why not get some fresh air and take in a game?