Cape Town - World Rugby has announced the match official appointments for the 2020 Six Nations as the road to Rugby World Cup 2023 begins in earnest for the world's top referees.
According to the World Rugby website, the selection, the first since World Cup 2019, includes a strong blend of experience and emerging international talent with 20 of the 21 match officials involved in Japan 2019 selected.
With World Cup 2019 final referee Jerome Garces having announced his international retirement, Andrew Brace (Ireland) makes his Six Nations refereeing debut, while Matthew Carley (England) returns as a referee. Both were assistant referees at Japan 2019.
Mike Adamson (Scotland), Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Frank Murphy (Ireland) and Ben Whitehouse (Wales) return to the squad as assistant referees, while James Leckie (Australia), Glenn Newman (New Zealand) and Brian MacNeice (Ireland) are included in an expanded Television Match Official (TMO) panel after Ben Skeen announced his retirement.
Luke Pearce (England) will kick-off a new decade of men's Six Nations rugby when he takes charge of champions Wales against Italy at the Principality Stadium on 1 February.
Nigel Owens (Wales) will make his 98th Test appearance when he referees France v England at Stade de France the next day, while World Rugby Referee Award recipient Wayne Barnes (England) will take charge of France versus Ireland at the same venue on March 14, his 90th Test as a referee.
The appointments were made by the World Rugby Match Officials Selection Committee comprising Chairman Anthony Buchanan (Council member), Joel Jutge (EPCR), Lyndon Bray (SANZAAR), Nick Mallett (former international coach) and Alain Rolland (World Rugby) following a full review of performances at Rugby World Cup 2019 and other elite competitions.
World Rugby chairperson Sir Bill Beaumont said: "Following an incredible Rugby World Cup in Japan, the rugby family is now anticipating the road to Rugby World Cup 2023 with all eyes on the Six Nations Championship.
"Just like the teams, the preparation for France 2023 begins now for the match officials. Our goal is continuous improvement, accuracy and consistency of decision-making and this selection represents the continuation of that journey with a selection that features a strong blend of huge experience and the best young talent."
World Rugby 15s High Performance Match Official Manager Alain Rolland added: "There is a huge amount of excitement and motivation across the team as we head into the first Six Nations of the new decade.
"We have a strong team ethic, a superb group of match officials and we are excited about the young talent that is coming through the ranks from the U20 Championship and elite club environment.
"Our goal is always clear, consistent and accurate decision-making and while there is no change in emphasis we will continue to build on what we achieved at Rugby World Cup 2019, working with the teams to ensure the best-possible experience for players and fans.
"I would like to congratulate Andrew Brace on his first Six Nations refereeing appointment."
Jaco Peyper is the only South African referee in the tournament and he will handle only one match - the blockbuster between England and Ireland at Twickenham on February 23.
South Africa have no assistant referees appointed, but Marius Jonker will be the TMO in three matches.