10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
Suttonians begin their new life in the AIB League's Division Two on Saturday afternoon and the Dubliners' new captain David Walsh cannot wait.
See below for the first installment of the full-back's season-long diary on playing in the All-Ireland League.
"Promotion to Division Two is a huge boost for a local community club like Suttonians, a lot of work has gone into the club over the last few years, both on and off the pitch. Promotion generates a strong feel-good factor throughout the club, it's revitalised members and players alike to push on for more success.
"After the Division Three final at Lansdowne in May, we had a deserved six-week break from rugby - no running, no gym, no watching the diet, etc. It was nice to chill out and reminisce on the experiences from last season.
"We got back down to the hard work quickly and pre-season this year has been the toughest to date, with a weekly routine that involves commitment on a daily basis. Each week consisted of a minimum three visits to the gym and three visits to the club grounds for training/matches.
"More importantly though, the quality of training we are now doing is a lot more rugby specific. The club and its members are giving us huge support by drafting in more key personnel to focus on fitness and injury recuperation. Lads are really working hard in the gym, on the track and with their diets.
"As our coach constantly reminds us, professionalism is a mindset that doesn't necessarily require payment. Professionalism is a state of mind is a recurring statement from him.
"Last season was my tenth year at AIL level and it was the most enjoyable by a considerable way. It was also the season when our squad trained the hardest and played the best rugby that I've experienced.
"I also noticed an improvement in my own game, resulting from an enhanced training regime. It was great to be involved with a promotion-winning squad - there isn't an abundance of prizes in the game so when you get one you have to take it and cherish it.
"We've made a pact though that last season is resigned to the history books, we'll have plenty of time to reflect on those experiences long into retirement!
"Last season was full of good memories - my favourite moment on the pitch was dotting down at Lansdowne in the Division Three final to take us into the lead against Clonakilty. Off the pitch, it had to be the Garda escort for our team coach from Sutton to Lansdowne on finals days. It was a busy Saturday morning in Dublin city and we brought all traffic to a standstill along the way. Crossing the Liffey, getting waved on by passers by was a great buzz and I know it's one memory from the day that many of the lads enjoyed!
...The Suttonians squad line up before last May's decider at Lansdowne Road...
"Our ultimate goal for this year is to finish in the top four in Division Two. After tasting success last year and been fortunate enough not only to have held onto the full squad (playing and coaching) but also to have made some key additions for the coming season, there is certainly a desire for more success.
"We're improving all the time and there's a couple of players who could really make their mark this year. Alan Walsh, who has been with the senior squad for the past few seasons, seems to have hit a good run of form with some big displays in pre-season games.
"Also Ben Reilly, who is 19 and 6ft 6in, is making a big impact in his first involvement with the seniors.
"We've beaten opposition well above our league rankings which gives us the belief and confidence required.
"I'm captain this year and it's early days but I would hope to be considered the kind of captain who helps my players along when the need arises and also one that benefits the squad by contributing at the right moments during training and matches. I enjoy the added responsibility of the captaincy, although I have the luxury of being able to say this, safe in the knowledge that I'm captaining a squad full of leaders in their own right.
"My role is predominantly a representative one, and if there is added pressure it wouldn't be any greater than the pressure I put on myself to perform.
"It's Midleton first up for us, down in Cork, and without giving too much away we have done some homework on them. We're under no illusions about what to expect down there other than an extremely physical and hard-fought contest.
"They have obviously had a great start to the season winning the Cork Charity Cup, beating considerable opposition along the way. I'm sure they'll be looking to improve their league position from last year.
"Let's hope the omens are good for us though - our first and last visit to Midleton back in the 1998/99 Division Three season saw us come away with a 5-3 victory (I can't remember who scored our try that day!)
"Away games in the AIB League demand the right preparation, and most away games we have outside of Leinster would involve leaving on the Friday afternoon.
"To give you an idea, an average away trip would run something like this:
2pm-3pm: Friday afternoon, meet at SRFC clubhouse
3pm: Bite to eat with the squad before boarding the coach to travel to the team hotel
7pm: Arrive at the team hotel and you're paired off with a player in a similar position to you
8pm: Interactive team meeting at the hotel, focusing on our game plan and re-confirming the itinerary for Saturday
9pm: Evening free to use hotel facilities - maybe a light swim, play cards, watch TV, etc.
11pm: Off to bed
8-9am: Saturday, breakfast in the hotel
11am: Light warm-up at the hotel grounds
12.30pm: Depart the hotel for opposition grounds
2.30pm: Game kicks off
4.30pm: After-match shower then into number 1s for food and drinks in the opposition clubhouse
6pm: Coach departs for SRFC