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.
Mercurial New Zealand fly-half Dan Carter has scooped the International Rugby Players' Association Player of the Year award for 2005.
The 23-year-old, who was rested for the All Blacks' recent 45-7 defeat of Ireland, has had an outstanding season.
Carter was instrumental in New Zealand's historic clean sweep of the British & Irish Lions during last summer's Lions tour and despite a lengthy absence due to a leg injury, he has returned to orchestrate the All Blacks' successful "Grand Slam" tour of the UK and Ireland.
In 24 outings in black, Carter has scored an incredible 354 points - including 12 tries, 72 conversions and 50 penalties.
Carter, who beat his All Blacks team mate Richie McCaw in the vote, said: "It means a lot when you are recognised by the guys you compete with. I'm honoured of course, but really have to acknowledge the guys I play with. We make it happen together."
It was a double win for New Zealand, who run out at Murrayfield on Saturday chasing their first Grand Slam against the home nations in 27 years. Graham Henry's side were also rewarded with the IRPA Team of the Year prize, beating Six Nations champions Wales in the vote.
The IRPA Newcomer of the Year award went to South African winger Bryan Habana. The 22-year-old Johannesburg flyer, since making his Test debut against England last November, has scored an impressive 15 tries in 14 outings for the Springboks.
His brace last Saturday helped Jake White's men to a 33-16 victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium. Australian winger Drew Mitchell, who bagged two tries against Ireland last weekend, and All Blacks speedster Sitiveni Sivivatu finished as runners-up.
Blue Bulls star Habana said: "It is certainly an honour and privilege to receive this prestigious IRPA award. However, rugby is a fantastic team sport and this award would not have been possible without the effort and support of my fantastic team mates. To play for the Springboks is the ultimate honour and I am just so privileged to be part of this exciting team at the moment."
Legendary Australian scrum-half George Gregan, who is poised to win his 118th cap against Wales on Saturday, was honoured with an IRPA Special Merit award. The 34-year-old became the most-capped player of all-time this year - after making his Test debut against Italy in 1994, Gregan quickly established himself as Australia's first choice number 9, playing in the 1995, 1999 and 2003 Rugby World Cups and taking over the Wallaby captaincy from John Eales in 2001.
Brumbies pivot Gregan said: "I am honoured to receive the IRPA Special Merit Award for 2005, and consider myself very fortunate to have been able to contribute to the game that has provided me with so many memories, friendships and opportunities."
IRPA President Tony Dempsey added on the subject of the Merit award: "This award is not automatically presented every year as the recipient must be worthy of the honour, however IRPA believes George has made a huge impact on the game of rugby ever since making his international bow in 1994."
The IRPA awards are based on past 12 months' rugby action, and are voted for by members of the seven national Rugby Players' Associations, including the IRUPA (Irish Rugby Union Players Association).
Meanwhile, the annual IRB (International Rugby Board) awards take place on Sunday night at the Pavillon d'Armenonville, Allie de Longchamp in Paris. The aforementioned Carter, McCaw and Habana have been nominated for the Player of the Year award, as well as All Blacks captain Tana Umaga and South African lock Victor Matfield.