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.
The smallest man on the Waikato Stadium pitch on Saturday could end up having the biggest say - it is more often than not the case when Peter Stringer steps up to the mark.
The 5f 7in Corkman has been undoubtedly Ireland's most consistent player since he made his debut against Scotland in 2000. A run of 63 starts and three substitute appearances in Ireland's last 71 Tests has seen him become Ireland's most-capped scrum half and catapulted to fifth in the all-time caps list. He should join legendary centre Mike Gibson on 69 caps by the end of the summer tour.
It is no wonder that a poll earlier this year had him as the second most recognisable Irish rugby player behind team captain Brian O'Driscoll.
Of course, Munster's Heineken Cup triumph last month took his hero status to a new level. The 28-year-old's try in the province's final defeat of Biarritz will live long in the memory.
But with Ulster's Isaac Boss looking to mount a determined challenge for the Irish number 9 spot with the World Cup just 15 months away, Stringer knows he cannot afford to take his eye off the ball.
While this season has been a successful one, Stringer is philosophical when he reflects back on this time last year and missing out on the Lions tour to New Zealand.
He admitted: "I gave myself a chance. I had thought about getting to that stage (the Lions) for a few years, it was a dream goal but I never made it.
"However, since then I feel that I have upped my game and I wanted to prove to myself that I'm capable of playing against and competing against guys at the highest level.
"I'm not too worried about what others, the press, the media, say about me. I have been basically proving things to myself, I am enjoying my rugby and I am not worrying about other things," he told the New Zealand Herald.
...Stringer tackles Keven Mealamu during the sides' meeting in Dublin last November...
Heading to Hamilton with seven Munster players in the pack and his former school mate Ronan O'Gara beside him at out-half, Stringer is thankful for the familiarity in the Irish side at present. Indeed, Saturday's clash will be the 42nd Test start for Stringer and O'Gara as Ireland's half back pairing.
"We have the confidence going for us after a good season. The pack is going well and the way that Munster dominated in Europe this year bodes well for us. It is great to have familiar guys all around you, especially on a short tour like this where you get thrown together and you want to make things happen.
"Where there is not a lot a preparation time, we have an advantage of knowing each other's play so well - just in things like the pack and having Ronan (O'Gara) running the backs outside me."
Stringer, who has played four times against the All Blacks, reckons Ireland are capable of winning the first Test, but they need to hold sway at the breakdown.
"As a half back our game is based on quick ball which is obviously down to the all-important first area of contact. New Zealand and especially (Richie) McCaw are very good in that area but we have picked a pack which is very unified to combat that. It is a difficult challenge but we are up for it."