Declan Kidney has named an unchanged XV for the crucial World cup quarter-final against Wales on Saturday.
The Irish manage has included in form Rory Best in his team and will give the Ulster captain every chance to prove his fitness ahead of the crunch clash.
Best is responding well to treatment having sprained the AC joint on his right shoulder in last weekend’s victory over Italy.
Should the Hooker’s race to be fit prove unsuccessful, then Sean Cronin is on standby to start with Munster’s Damien Varley moving up the ranks to the bench.
Speaking at the announcement of the team, Kidney said “We have to put a team in 48 hours before kick-off, the decision could go right to the end, and we’ll make it when we have to make it.
“I wouldn’t want to tempt fate by rating Rory’s chances, but he’s not ruled out which is always the first sign.
“He had a good day yesterday which everyone was very positive about. He’s making great progress and we’re taking it one day at a time.”
Giving the level of performance against the Italians Kidney was never going to tinker with his side too much and former Munster coach has kept faith with the half-back pairing Ronan O’Gara and Conor Murray after they impressed the final group C win.
“Half-back is the most competitive area of the team. I know it’s unconventional to use different half-backs at different times,” said Kidney.
“When they’ve been on the pitch they’ve brought their own things to it.
“For example Jonathan was hugely strong for us in defence in the last 10 minutes against Italy.
“Eoin robbed two great balls for us in the last 10-15 minutes.
“Leaving them out isn’t easy, but Conor and Ronan have gone quite well for us.”
Given Sexton defensive compatibilities the question was always going to be asked of Kidney as to whether O’Gara’s defensive frailties will be a factor against Wales however the coach was quick to dismiss the notion that Wales would single out the Munster fly half.
“They have quite an array of places where they can attack, I don’t think they’ll pick anyone in particular,” he said.
“Wales are a better side now because before you knew where they would attack, but now they attack other places too.
“It’s going to be a case of everyone defending their own zone.”
Ireland start as slight favourites against Wales, who they have beaten in nine of the last 12 meetings, however the outcome of Saturday’s first quarter-final, is impossible to predict.
“Playing Wales is a huge challenge. They got the better of us in March and are going well,” said Kidney.
“They only lost to the kick of a ball against South Africa, otherwise they’d be on four wins from four games.
“They beat England and Argentina during the warm up games as well.
“They have a few younger players who have brought their own spark. The senior guys are showing good form too.
“They’re showing different trends in the way they play, but are more unpredictable than before.
“If it was possible to read them before, it’s more difficult now.”
Ireland team to face Wales at Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington, on Saturday, October 8 (KO 6am Irish time): R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O’Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D’Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster); R O’Gara (Munster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O’Callaghan (Munster), P O’Connell (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), S O’Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), T Court (Ulster), D Ryan (Munster), D Leamy (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster).
*if Rory Best is ruled out then Sean Cronin will start with Damien Varley moving to the bench