Ulster centre Jared Payne failed to shake off heavy bruising on an ankle injury to be fit to return to the Ireland side to play Wales in Friday night’s RBS 6 Nations Championship match in Cardiff.
Garry Ringrose retains his place at outside centre as Joe Schmidt named an unchanged side from that which defeated France two weeks ago in Dublin.
Payne had made an unlikely return to Ireland’s squad for the final two Six Nations rounds, after suffering a nasty kidney injury in November.
Ireland could have benefited from the 31-year-old’s defensive leadership against Wales’ powerful backline, but the New Zealand-born centre was not quite ready for action.
Payne may still play for Ulster in Saturday’s Guinness PRO12 game against Zebre in Belfast and may yet see action in the green jersey when Ireland play their final game against England on Saturday, March 18, in Dublin.
Ireland’s sole change to the matchday 23 that saw off France 19-9 in Dublin on Saturday, February 25 sees the luckless Andrew Trimble miss out through a hand problem having only just beaten a groin issue.
Trimble will miss the rest of the Six Nations after suffering his new setback in action for Ulster on Friday, so Tommy Bowe takes a seat on Ireland’s bench.
Vice captain Jamie Heaslip will win his 95th Ireland cap this weekend, and his 100th Test bow in all when including his five for the British and Irish Lions.
IRELAND: R Kearney (Leinster); K Earls (Munster), G Ringrose, R Henshaw (both Leinster), S Zebo (Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); J McGrath (Leinster), R Best (Ulster, capt), T Furlong (Leinster), D Ryan (Munster), D Toner (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster), S O’Brien, J Heaslip (both Leinster).
Replacements: N Scannell (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), J Ryan (Munster), I Henderson (Ulster), P O’Mahony (Munster), K Marmion (Connacht), P Jackson, T Bowe (both Ulster).