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.
BALLYMENA 21 YOUNG MUNSTER 10, Eaton Park
Scorers: Ballymena: Tries: Tommy Seymour, Ian Whitten; Con: Ian Humphreys; Pens: Ian Humphreys 3
Young Munster: Try: Derek Corcoran; Con: Wayne Murphy; Pen: Wayne Murphy
Ballymena v Young Munster - Match Photo Gallery
Despite the constant rain, Jacques Benade's Ballymena side managed to outscore the visitors by two tries to one in an entertaining game with no sin-binnings.
A try from Ballymena newcomer Tommy Seymour left Munsters 11-3 behind at half-time.
Young Munster captain Derek Corcoran touched down to cut the gap to a single point but Ian Whitten replied for the home side, who had an 11-point kicking contribution from Ulster's Ian Humphreys.
The bouts of heavy rain, allied to a blustery wind, meant conditions were particularly difficult for the Cookies' top flight comeback game.
After six seasons in Division Two, the Limerick outfit are back where many observers would say they belong.
But Ballymena's forwards had little time for sentimentality during a one-sided opening quarter.
Unbeaten in the Ulster Senior League currently, the Braidmen had a number of new players on show as well as the Ulster-contracted trio of Humphreys, Seamus Mallon and Chris Henry.
That experience and guile paid off against what was a youthful Munster side which, given time, will begin to find its feet in the top tier.
Humphreys slotted two early penalties to give Ballymena the edge and a well-worked team try, initiated by Adam Cupples, was gleefully scored by former Ireland Under-19 flyer Seymour.
That effort went unconverted and the Cookies replied just before the break when Wayne Murphy planted a penalty through the posts.
Hopes of an upset increased when the Ballymena rearguard fell asleep, allowing winger Corcoran to glide over for a seven-pointer.
Ballymena knuckled down though, with Mallon beginning to impress in the middle, and a third Humphreys penalty eased the tension for the hosts.
When Whitten, who starred for the Ulster 'A' team recently, had too much gas for the cover defence and dotted down his score, it was game over.
This was a vitally important win for Ballymena as they launch their bid to be one of the eight teams entering into Section A of a restructured Division One next season.
Last term the Braidmen won only five of their 15 league games - with four of those victories coming in November and December.
And with four of their five opening league games at home, over the next few weeks, this was an encouraging start for the 2002/03 champions.