Tuilagi will start on the right flank, outside centres Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell, when the tourists attempt to level the series at Forsyth Barr Stadium tomorrow.
It will be his first Test appearance in a role he last performed for Leicester in 2011, and there are question marks over his speed on the turn and aerial ability. All Blacks fly-half Aaron Cruden has promised any achilles heal will be targeted ruthlessly.
“Kicking to him would be an option we’ll look at, for sure,” Cruden said. “He’s a natural midfielder who hasn’t played much on the wing, so we’ll probably put a few up on him and test him early.”
Despite head coach Stuart Lancaster’s confidence in a positional switch under consideration for at least six months, doubts persist that it could backfire.
“Manu’s done a few high balls in training but the way we defend, our wingers will be up and the back field will be covered by number eight, 15, 10,” Lancaster said.
The All Blacks edged the first Test, a 78th-minute try from Conrad Smith enabling them to draw first blood in what is expected to be a tight series.
Meanwhile, George North remains a doubt for Wales’ first Test against South Africa. The Northampton wing has been selected in the starting XV for tomorrow’s clash in Durban, despite being laid low by a virus.
The illness saw North withdrawn from the squad which beat the Eastern Province Kings on Tuesday, but head coach Warren Gatland is confident of having his star man fit for the weekend. However, the Kiwi admits the 22-year-old is facing a battle.
He said: “George felt a bit nauseous on Tuesday and he has unfortunately had a bit of diarrhoea and stuff so he has been in his room and had food taken up to him. He is making slow progress but we will make a decision on him on Friday, or even later.”
Wales may have to call on uncapped Scarlets winger Jordan Williams to replace North, although there is also the option of moving Liam Williams from full-back and bringing James Hook or Matthew Morgan into the number 15 jersey.
There are two changes from the side which hammered Scotland at the end of the Six Nations. Scarlets flanker Aaron Shingler fills the number seven shirt, with Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric injured, while Adam Jones makes his 100th Test appearance on the tight-head side of the scrum.
Jones will be joined by fellow front-row stalwart Gethin Jenkins, who wins his 106th Welsh cap, in an area which could prove critical to the outcome at Kings Park.
Meanwhile, Scotland coach Vern Cotter has made four changes to his starting XV for his second game in charge, against Canada in Toronto tomorrow. Two of the changes are forced: Grant Gilchrist take over from Jim Hamilton, who injured his ankle, at lock, while Peter Horne comes in at centre for Duncan Taylor (calf).