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 quick glance at the top of Division One will show you just how tough a season it has been in the top flight of the AIB League.
With the re-formatted Division One Section A and Division One Section B coming on stream for 2009/10, the fight for a place in the top eight was always going to make it an interesting season.
What has transpired has been the closest season ever in the race to win a place in the play-offs and the title of AIB League champions.
Only three points separate 1st from 7th so the four play-off spots are still up for grabs this weekend.
Looking back over previous seasons, the points difference between 1st and 7th over the last two rounds of the league has been as high as 24 (in 2005/06), while last year there were 23 points between the sides in those positions at the same period.
We have to go back to the 2003/04 season for the next lowest points differential when 14 points was the difference between Cork Constitution in first and County Carlow in 8th that year.
In fact, the top eight back then makes for interesting reading as it shows the fluctuations in form of some of the clubs: 1. Cork Con, 2. Shannon, 3. Belfast Harlequins, 4. Buccaneers, 5. Ballymena, 6. Blackrock, 7. Garryowen and 8. County Carlow
This season it is very different with seven clubs in the running for a play-off spot and arguably the game that could have the most impact this Saturday is the one between Shannon and Dolphin.
The Cork club toppled Garryowen at Musgrave Park last Saturday and will be aiming for something similar away from home this coming weekend. Both sides are on 47 points and a win would almost certainly guarantee a top four finish.
Blackrock, having their best season in some time, will see seventh place as scant reward for their efforts this season and will be aiming to bounce back from their surprise defeat in Dungannon last Saturday with a win over UL Bohemians at Stradbrook.
With six try-scoring bonus points in the bag, they will probably need a seventh to be in with a shout of reachin the play-offs.
Cork Con will entertain Ballymena and Garryowen are at home to Galwegians, while St. Mary's have a Dublin derby agaist the already relegated Terenure.
UCD and Young Munster will fight it out to avoid the drop, while Buccaneers and Old Belvedere will play out the final game of the round with the Athlone side keeping one eye on the outcome of the encounter at Belfield.
What we can say for certain is that Division One Section A of the AIB League for the 2009/2010 season will comprise: Blackrock College, Clontarf, Cork Constitution, Dolphin, Garryowen, Shannon, St. Mary's College and UL Bohemians. But that can keep for another day.