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 picturesque coastal village of Glenarm in County Antrim will be well and truly pencilled in on the rugby map on Sunday when Isaac Boss makes his first start for Ireland.
The Ulster scrum half, born in Tokoroa, New Zealand but with a maternal grandmother (a McAllister) who hailed from Glenarm, is deservedly getting a shot at the Irish number 9 jersey after coming to the boil in his second season with the province. Glenarm is still home to some of his relatives, including his granny's cousin.
His electrifying try in Ulster's Heineken Cup trouncing of Toulouse last month was just one moment from a catalogue of sparky performances by the 26-year-old. His form is undeniable - Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan admitted as much this week.
Having slugged it out with Kieran Campbell for first choice recognition at Ulster last term, the time seems right for Boss to challenge Ireland's long-time number 9 Peter Stringer for a Test spot, but even if he is his direct rival, the former New Zealand Under-19 international reckons he is and will continue to learn from the Munster pivot and vice-versa.
He said: "Peter and I are very different, but at this stage it is more about me being able to just slot in there. Peter has a a great partnership going with Ronan O'Gara, so it is important that Ireland don't lose anything (against Australia) by me coming in.
"First and foremost, my goal is to fulfil my primary responsibilities as a scrum half. If I can bring different aspects to the game, maybe around the ruck and maul, the so be it."
Having had spells in New Zealand with the Waikato Chiefs and Wellington Hurricanes (in the then Super 12), Boss has an inside knowledge of the Australian players that he has been dipping in and out of all week. Come game-time he will be primed to give Matt Giteau, a top level Test player but still a rookie scrum half, a torrid time in the battle for half-back supremacy.
...Boss in the comfortable surroundings of the Killiney Castle Hotel...
Capped twice as a replacement on the summer tour, Boss earned his third cap replacing Stringer late on in last week's win over the Springboks. Although on the end of some good-natured ribbing about his 'blow-in' status, he does know his Irish rugby.
Boss added: "I used to get up early in the morning to watch Ireland play in what was the Five Nations back then. I had my All Black heroes but I also had my Irish ones - Simon Geoghegan, Brendan Mullin, Nick Popplewell and the rest.
"My family back home will do the same on Sunday but they will have extra reason to watch the game now! I'm hoping both my sister (who he lives with in Belfast) and my brother, who is based in London, will be able to get here for the game."
Affable by nature, there lurks a steely determination inside Boss. He wants as much game-time as possible over the next two weekends to prove himself in front of the Lansdowne Road masses and put pressure on the vastly experienced Stringer ahead of the RBS 6 Nations.
"'Strings' has been around for 70-odd games and playing very well so you have got to take your opportunities when they come. I am thrilled to get a start this Sunday and am not looking ahead of the game. But I would not be happy to step down again for the Pacific Islands game.
"I am looking to try and put as much pressure on him as possible. But at the same time, I have enjoyed being on the bench and picking up a few things," he added.
"I have been learning off Peter and maybe there are other areas of his game that he might think the same thing of me. Everyone's goal is to get a starting spot and I am working towards that."
Exclusive Access, Tickets, Competitions and Much More