10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
Brian O'Driscoll has willed his Ireland team mates to raise their collective standards for the forthcoming permanent tsb Autumn internationals.
The Leinster and Ireland captain, who is recovering steadily from the dislocated right shoulder he sustained on Lions duty this past summer, is almost certain to sit out all three of the November fixtures as New Zealand, Australia and Romania visit Lansdowne Road.
Eddie O'Sullivan's side endured a dip in form towards the tail end of last season - losing to France (19-26) and eventual Six Nations winners Wales (20-32). Finishing third in the Six Nations table saw Ireland at a low ebb and O'Driscoll, who scored a late try to put Ireland 21-19 up against the French, dubbed that particular loss - the first defeat for O'Sullivan's men in seven Tests - "a bitter pill to swallow."
"We felt we let ourselves down a little bit in the Six Nations. We thought we had a potential Grand Slam if not a Grand Slam decider in us, and to lose out to the French was a bitter pill to swallow," admitted O'Driscoll.
"We have to move onwards and upwards and in November we have three big Tests. We have to look at putting in some great performances and hoping that the results take care of themselves.
"We managed to beat Australia before in a November series, but we've never beaten New Zealand so that's a massive challenge. Obviously, it will be important that we beat Romania and in doing so, put in a good performance too.
"But I think, first and foremost, we have got to look at upping our standards from the Six Nations this year."
The 26-year-old, who will earn his 60th cap the next time he pulls on the green jersey, reckons the All Blacks, who take on Ireland on November 12, were deserving winners of the Tri-Nations earlier this month.
"The best team probably won it (the Tri-Nations) in the end. I don't think New Zealand quite played to the standards they did against the Lions, but they were not far off it at points," he told Total Rugby Radio.
"They had that killer instinct in that when they needed to win, they won - it's a sign of a great team. It will be interesting to see how the (Southern Hemisphere) teams fare when they come over and play in Britain and Ireland in November."
A date for O'Driscoll's on-field return has been bandied about ever since the star centre, who still ranks as Ireland's record try scorer (27), had his Lions tour devastatingly cut short in the early minutes of the first Test against New Zealand on June 25.
The player himself just wants to concentrate on getting his shoulder right. "It's been nine weeks since my operation. I think I'm pretty much on schedule. It's hard to know (when I'll be back), these things take a huge amount of time and there's no miracle cure for it.
"At the moment, I'm just concentrating on taking it day by day, week by week - not on the games and when I'll be playing because (if there's) little setbacks, I'll just get upset by them."