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.
Gavin Williams, the 22-year-old son of legendary All Black winger Bryan Williams, has signed for Connacht.
Williams, a powerful centre at 6ft 1in and 15-and-a-half stone, joins the westerners following spells in New Zealand with Southland and Auckland. A physiotherapy student, he has also played rugby in Italy.
Williams is the fourth player from New Zealand rugby that Connacht coach Michael Bradley has secured the services of this season.
Wellington lock Andrew Gallagher, Taranaki's Irish-qualified prop Hamish Mitchell and North Harbour centre Andrew Mailei are already stationed in Galway - Tongan international Mailei arrived last Monday.
Williams is ineligible for the the pool stages of the European Challenge Cup, but should Connacht qualify from Pool Five, he could prove pivotal in guiding the province, twice semi-finalists in the last two years, through to the May final.
Bradley admitted: "Gavin will be a big addition to our squad. We have monitored him for some
time and believe he will fit in with what we are striving to achieve here.
"You need to have plenty of options and plenty of cover given the demands of the current game. We have suffered with injuries this season and once or twice we have ended up with very little cover in our backline.
"Gavin is a quality player and I am confident he will do a good job for us," added the former Ireland scrum-half.
Williams, whose father played 113 times for New Zealand throughout the 1970s, scoring 330 points (68 in Test matches), could make his debut against Leinster in the Celtic League on December 3.