Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has revealed Ulster's Iain Henderson was agonisingly close to winning his fitness battle and taking on Wales in the Six Nations tomorrow.
The lock would have won his 37th cap in the Aviva Stadium against Warren Gatland's men (2.15pm kick-off), but has been limited in training this week due to a hamstring strain.
Under the circumstances, Schmidt said he didn't want to take the risk, but insisted Henderson would be fighting fit for the round four clash with Scotland on March 10.
The 26-year-old isn't the only absentee for tomorrow's big game, with influential forward Tadhg Furlong also unable to overcome his own hamstring issue, with Leinster's Andrew Porter coming in to make his first championship start at tight-head.
"Iain was the closer of the two, he could probably have played on Saturday," said Schmidt who has never lost a Six Nations game in Dublin.
"But Iain wasn't able to complete training (yesterday) so we're not going to risk him.
"Iain was very close, he could definitely play next weekend, and the week after he will be fine. Tadhg was close as well.
"We thought on Tuesday with Tadhg he may well make it but the progress just stalled a little bit."
Henderson's absence means there are just two Ulster players in the 23, although another native of the province will make his debut in the competition after Chris Farrell, now plying his trade with Munster, was chosen as the man to replace Robbie Henshaw in midfield.