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.
The Braidmen qualified by winning the Ulster Senior Cup and then defeating the Leinster Cup holders Old Belvedere 18-15 at Anglesea Road at the semi-final stage of the Bateman Cup.
That result alone demonstrates that they must be respected. The also had a good campaign in the Ulster Bank League, leading Division 1B at Christmas before fading somewhat to finish fifth.
"We are quite satisfied with that," stresses Ballymena head coach John Andrews. "We have an extremely young side and to be top of the table at Christmas really exceeded our expectations.
"A more realistic target was to finish in the top half of the table. We've achieved that and also won the Ulster Senior Cup for the first time in seven years.
"Now that we have got a taste for it, we would like nothing better than to add the Bateman Cup."
Andrews, a teacher at Ballymena Academy, has been central in helping Ballymena adopt a new more positive approach to their rugby.
Quite a few exciting young players have come through the ranks, notably Ulster's Luke Marshall at centre or out-half and Ireland Club international full-back Rodger McBurney.
Unusually, the side also includes three brothers in John, Joel and Ricky Andrew, all of whom are highly rated.
Unfortunately, McBurney has missed the last five games with a hamstring problem but returned to training this week.
Ballymena prepared for the Bateman Cup final by trouncing UCC 41-6 in their final Division 1B game last Saturday, running in seven tries in the process.