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.
Connacht, the only province to remain unbeaten in pre-season, have recruited well, but have they the firepower to finish in the upper echelons of the Celtic League this season?
Head Coach: Michael Bradley; Assistant Coaches: John Fitzgerald, Eric Elwood
Captain: Andrew Farley
Founded: 1885; Ground: The Sportsground (Capacity 5,000); Sponsors: Bank of Ireland
Transfers: In: Andrew Gallagher (lock, Wellington), Chris Venter (prop/hooker, Natal Sharks), Colm Rigney (back row, Leeds Tykes), David Gannon (lock, Leinster), John Hearty (centre, Leinster), Hamish Mitchell (prop, Taranaki)
Out: Peter Bracken (London Wasps), Bernard Jackman (Leinster), John O'Sullivan (Munster), Pieter Myburgh (Central Unions, South Africa), Tony Buckley (Munster), Eric Elwood (retired)
2005/06 Squad: Adrian Clarke, Michael Diffley, James Downey, Andrew Farley, John Fogarty, Andrew Gallagher, David Gannon, John Hearty, Ray Hogan, Chris Keane, Stephen Knoop, Matt Lacey, Ronan Loughney, Keith Matthews, Dan McFarland, Mark McHugh, Conor McPhillips, Joe Merrigan, Hamish Mitchell, Matt Mostyn, John Muldoon, Brendan O'Connor, Conor O'Loughlin, Colm Rigney, Daniel Riordan, Ted Robinson, Christian Short, David Slemen, Michael Swift, Tom Tierney, Chris Venter, Paul Warwick, Darren Yapp
Average Age: 25
Celtic League History:
2001/02: Quarter-finalists (29-34 v Glasgow); 2002/03: Quarter-finalists (3-33 v Munster); 2003/04: Ninth; 2004/05: Tenth
Top Points Scorer: Eric Elwood (293)
Top Try Scorers: Conor McPhillips (13), Wayne Munn (13), Matt Mostyn (12)
Top Kicker (Conversions, Penalties): Eric Elwood (112)
2005/06 Odds To Win: 100/1 (Paddy Power)
Players To Watch:
Paul Warwick: The former Australian Sevens captain really put his mark on Connacht's Challenge Cup campaign last year. In the absence of legendary Galwegian Eric Elwood (now assistant coach) this season and injured talisman Mark McHugh for much of it, Warwick will have to help the westerners scrap for everything - with the boot and his distribution from number 10.
Colm Rigney: Two seasons with Leeds Tykes will have bolstered Rigney's game. "The prodigal son" will easily step into John O'Sullivan's shoes at the base of the Connacht scrum, and a strong season and Heineken Cup qualification could tempt Ireland international Johnny O'Connor back to join him.
Conor McPhillips: The unluckiest man to travel to Japan in June, McPhillips was the only member of the Ireland squad not to earn some game-time in the Far East. If the flying wing can rediscover the form which saw him score eleven tries in 20 Celtic League outings in 2003/04, then that Test debut should be finally his.
Coach Speak: Michael Bradley: "We were only one win away from qualifying for the Heineken Cup last season. The difference between the Borders (at the bottom) and ourselves was 20 points, while the difference between the fourth-placed team and ourselves was just two wins.
"I would be delighted to find ourselves in the same position in this year's Celtic League because having had that experience we would finish the job."