Gatland has seen preparations for the Dublin clash badly affected by injuries.
Three members of the pack that helped brush Ireland aside in Wellington four months ago - injured trio Gethin Jenkins, Alun-Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris - will be sidelined for varying time periods during the tournament.
Hookers Matthew Rees (calf strain) and Lloyd Burns (neck) are also absent, while Gatland will confirm on Friday whether three other players have won their fitness battles.
Gatland delayed his scheduled team announcement by 48 hours after deciding to give centre Jamie Roberts, fly-half Rhys Priestland and flanker Dan Lydiate as much recovery time as possible.
Roberts has not played since suffering a knee injury two days before Christmas, while Scarlets star Priestland went off during a Heineken Cup game in Castres last month and Lydiate has been nursing ankle trouble.
In the final shake-up, it could be that Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Mike Phillips, Huw Bennett, Adam Jones, Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau are the only players who reappear on starting duty from Wellington.
Uncapped 21-year-old Ospreys centre Ashley Beck has emerged as a strong contender to replace Roberts, with James Hook the probable replacement for Priestland and Ryan Jones the leading candidate as Lydiate's deputy.
Added to the injury situation is a statistic showing just two Six Nations victories for Wales from six Dublin visits, which highlights their degree of difficulty in terms of securing a winning start.
"Ireland will throw everything at us - their provinces have been playing well in the Heineken Cup and Rabo Direct Pro12," Scarlets wing North told www.wru.co.uk.
"As a team we did put a marker down at the World Cup, but we want to push on from there and progress.
"The win against them in the World Cup quarter-final was massive for us. We all performed to the best of our abilities.
"That is where we want to be again, come Sunday, because the first game is always key and a win could really set us on our way."
Wales, meanwhile, will also be without Shane Williams following his post-World Cup retirement from the international arena after scoring 58 tries in 87 Test match appearances.
Reports on Wedensday suggested Williams now intends calling time on his Ospreys career at the end of this season. He is currently under contract with the Swansea-based region until next year.
Williams has not commented on that suggestion, but the Ospreys today released a statement outlining their position.
"Following his retirement from international rugby earlier this season, we have been involved in ongoing discussions with Shane regarding his future career once he inevitably decides to hang up his boots," the Ospreys said.
"While these discussions are ongoing and obviously remain confidential, Shane remains contracted to the Ospreys and 100% committed to the team, as you would expect, just as we remain committed to helping Shane make the natural progression from player to administrator.
"True to our ethos of development from within, we hope to be able to confirm shortly a new role for Shane within the organisation, which will enable him to continue serving the region with the same distinction he has as a player.
"Until such a time that discussions have been concluded, there will be no further comment on this matter from either party."
Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), K Earls (Munster), G D'Arcy (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster, capt), S Ferris (Ulster), S O'Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), T Court (Ulster), D Ryan (Munster), P O'Mahony (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster), R O'Gara (Munster), F McFadden (Leinster).
Wales: To be confirmed.
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