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.
Connacht's bid to qualify for the Heineken Cup really begins tonight when they take on Border Reivers in their opening Magners League fixture.
That is the viewpoint of the westerners' coach Michael Bradley who is desperate to see his side gain access to European rugby's premier tournament.
Connacht have been arguably the most consistent team in the European Challenge Cup in recent seasons, qualifying for four quarter-finals and two semi-finals since the 2002/03 term, but they have yet to push on and make an appearance in the Heineken Cup.
The province's league has simply been too erratic to enable them to book a Heineken Cup place through the Celtic route.
However, a tough Challenge Cup pool draw, with English duo Bath and Harlequins standing in their way, means Bradley's charges have admittedly had "a change of focus."
Ahead of Connacht's trip to Netherdale, Bradley said: "At the end of the day we have to achieve our goals and at this stage the Celtic campaign is a more realistic option (for Heineken Cup qualification).
"The Challenge Cup is becoming much harder. We're playing Bath and Harlequins - teams of Heineken Cup standard at the lower end - and while these are key matches for us, we need to keep our interest going right through the season.
"There is a change of focus. We have no doubt we will be competititve in Europe and on a good day we could beat any side, but the day-in, day-out work is the Magners League and we must prioritise that this year."
Frustratingly, tonight's hosts the Borders qualified for the Heineken Cup last season but Connacht have an enviable record on the league's opening weekend - they have yet to lose their first fixture of a new league campaign since the dawn of Celtic rugby in 2001.
But cautiously, Bradley added: "We lost seven of our first matches last year and we made it difficult for ourselves. As a result we were the bottom team for most of the season, only moving up on the last day. If we are to achieve our goals, we need to get out of the blocks running."
Connacht certainly took the tape last May in excellent form - they scored a 33-7 home victory over Glasgow Warriors to end the season on a high.