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.
A shadow operator behind Frankie Sheahan at Munster for two years, Jerry Flannery could hardly have imagined ending the season playing against two of the world's top four teams.
Back in October, the 27-year-old hooker was lining out for Shannon in the cut and thrust of the AIB League. But with one twist of fate, Flannery was promoted to first choice with Munster and he grabbed immediate headlines with succession of powerful performances in the Heineken Cup. A first Ireland cap followed - he proudly became Shannon's 15th senior international as a replacement against Romania last November.
His progression continued into the RBS 6 Nations where he nailed down the number 2 jersey - he was ever-present on the road to the Triple Crown, even scoring a try on his tournament debut against Italy.
These past seven months, topped off by a Heineken Cup winners' medal, have flown by for Flannery, but it is hard to forget that a cruelly-timed injury for his Munster colleague Sheahan (neck ligaments) paved the way for his ascension into the Test arena.
Flannery said: "From the outside it might seem like I came from nowhere, but I was always kind of aware that I was knocking on the door. Such is the strength of the Munster squad though, you have to wait for someone to get an injury to get a chance, a sustained chance.
"You get a game here and there but if there's an international on the bench, like Frankie, they're always going to bring him back.
"It was unfortunate for Frankie, fortunate for me, that I did manage to get that sustained run in the team, and it's been brilliant."
...Flannery, now with six caps to his name, throws in at Lansdowne Road...
Ahead of his first cap against New Zealand, Flannery has fond memories of Munster's indelible link with the All Blacks, even though he was only two weeks old when the tourists were beaten 12-0 at Thomond Park in 1978.
"I've always loved watching the All Blacks. When I was younger, I remember we used to go into my dad''s pub (in Limerick), he had all the old photos on the wall of the 1978 victory. Then there was a touring underage All Blacks side that came years ago, I was only about 10, I remember we kept pointing out the photos to them. I'm sure they were getting sick of of it," he told the Irish Examiner.
"For us, this is a chance to play against the best players in the world. If you want to find out how good you are, go down and play the All Blacks."
So is a history-making win over the Kiwis - the perfect way to crown his debut Test season - on the cards?
"Things have been going very well this year. We have a small pool of players - we saw that in the autumn internationals when fellas were missing with injuries, the team was weakened," Flannery explained.
"If we can keep everyone fit, put in a few big performances, you never know what will happen."