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 man at Ireland's helm the whole way through, Declan Kidney, has consistently deflected praise for himself onto the players and management and backroom staff.
So, it was a fitting climax to the GUINNESS Series 2009 when IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset presented the Corkman with the IRB Coach of the Year award shortly after the final whistle at Croke Park.
Kidney has enjoyed an exceptional first full year as head coach of Ireland, masterminding his side to a deserved Grand Slam - the first by an Irish team in 61 years - and taking charge of the Ireland 'A' team that secured their first Churchill Cup.
Now, after completing a run of 10 Test wins and a draw, he has broken new ground as the first Irish coach to win the IRB Coach of the Year award in its nine-year history.
He is also first Coach of the Year from the Northern Hemisphere since England's Clive Woodward picked up the honour in 2003. Indeed, Woodward and France's Bernard Laporte were the only previous winners from Europe.
Kidney, who is following in the footsteps of recent winners Jake White and Graham Henry, said: "I think my role is totally overstated. The players are making all the tackles and making all the carries and I'm delighted for them, the year that has gone by.
"I don't know what to say really, the team have been superb over the last 12 months. I haven't made a tackle all year!
"But for my family putting up with me and the players putting up with me even more, I'd like to accept it on their behalf."
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset, who also confirmed South Africa as the 2009 IRB Team of the Year, added: "It has been a compelling year of international rugby. South Africa have demonstrated this year exactly why they are World Cup champions, winning the Tri Nations and a truly memorable Lions series.
"Meanwhile, Declan Kidney has taken Ireland to the Grand Slam, Six Nations and Triple Crown titles. Both are deserving recipients of these prestigious awards."