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.
Irish centre Brian O'Driscoll believes Ireland can qualify for the Rugby World Cup final. The 24-year-old, who's star shone against the Wallabies in Melbourne last weekend, said he believes this Irish team has the potential to be the top ranked side in the world.
"Our goal is not to just reach the semi-finals. It's to win the competition. We believe that when we're on top of our game, we can do that. There's no point setting targets like reaching the semi-final and getting comfortable," he said.
"When you get to this stage of the tournament, you get selfish. Obviously, if I think we can win the tournament, I think we can be the top-ranked side in the world."
The Irish qualified for the quarter-finals in 1987, 1991 and 1995 but a shock defeat to Argentina in 1999 saw them go home early. That wrong was righted two weeks ago in Adelaide, and now it's time go one better.
O'Driscoll played in Lens in 1999, and was part of the side humbled by the Pumas. But he was also responsible for a hat-trick against the French in Paris the following year, which delivered Ireland's first win there in 28 years, and has been part of a team that has beaten the French another two times in three years since then.
On the downside, that defeat was by 39 points in 2002, when France won the Six Nations Grand Slam by giving Ireland a 44-5 hiding.
This week France also leapfrogged Eddie O'Sullivan's squad in the IRB rankings, the Irish dropping from third to fifth while Les Bleus jumped to fourth following Ireland's one-point defeat to the Wallabies.
All that recent history will come to the boil at 7.30am Irish time on Sunday when following 80 minutes of rugby, Ireland's fate will have been decided.
"I'm sure we'll use that as motivation as the game gets closer. We don't want to be just another Irish side. We want to be remembered," O'Driscoll told reporters at Ireland's media conference yesterday.
If the Leinster man's prediction that Ireland can be world beaters is to come true, they must first overcome Les Bleus in Melbourne on Sunday, something O'Driscoll is also upbeat about.
Despite the fact that Ireland has already beaten their European neighbours in the Six Nations this year, the French have topped their world cup group and look more impressive with every match.
France also has much better history in the tournament, having been finalists once, semi finalists twice and quarter-finalists only once. Accordingly, O'Driscoll believes Ireland's poor World Cup finals record should ensure their mantle as underdogs this weekend.
"That's fair enough, they've been to two finals and we haven't won one. But since Eddie O'Sullivan took over as coach, the professionalism of this team has lifted enormously. We've played a lot of good games last 18 months. I guess we'll really tell how much progression we've made this week."
If O'Driscoll is to hit top form again this weekend, he will have to overcome an enormous challenge from France's outside-centre Tony Marsh. Marsh battled cancer earlier this year and still earned his place in France's XV, an amazing feat according to O'Driscoll.
"I was very much thinking along those lines (that Marsh would not appear at the World Cup) when I first heard about it. When you get an illness as bad as that, rugby is secondary. For him to come back is fantastic for rugby. You'd never wish that on anyone and I think he's returned as a fantastic player who is really on his game at the moment."