James - the top try scorer in the history of Cardiff Blues with 39 scores in 115 games - returned for a second spell at the region this summer and is now named in the starting line-up for the big league opener against the Italians.
Head Coach Danny Wilson, who leads the region for the first time into league action, has named a strong line-up, despite nine players currently being away on international duty.
Rhys Patchell and Tavis Knoyle will combine at half back while young gun Aled Summerhill is fit to fire on the opposite flank to James.
Dan Fish is named at full back while Tom Isaacs and Gavin Evans link-up in the centre after impressing throughout pre-season.
Academy graduate Ethan Lewis will make his Guinness PRO12 debut at hooker, with Matthew Rees ruled out of the game after having his appendix removed.
Prop legend Taufa’ao Filise moves a step closer to his double century, as he makes his 197th
appearance, with loosehead Sam Hobbs completing the front row.
Jarrad Hoeata and James Down join forces in the second row while captain Josh Navidi and Josh Turnbull play in the back row alongside Number Eight Manoa Vosawai who will come up against his countrymen.
Wales Under-20 centre Garyn Smith is among those named on the replacements bench.
Head Coach Wilson said: “The first game of any campaign is always an exciting time and we’ve been pleased with the way the squad has prepared this week and throughout pre-season.
“Zebre will be keen to make a winning start and have a number of high profile and talented players.
“They have threats throughout, but it’s vital we concentrate on ourselves. We need to defend against what they bring and just as importantly impart our own game on the opposition.”
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Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Aled Summerhill, 13 Tom Isaacs, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Tom James, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Tavis Knoyle; 1 Sam Hobbs, 2 Ethan Lewis, 3 Taufa’ao Filise, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 James Down, 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 Josh Navidi (c), 8 Manoa Vosawai
Replacements: 16 Rhys Williams, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Garyn Smith