Preview: Cardiff Blues v Zebre

Date published: September 4 2015

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Danny Wilson's first game in charge of Cardiff Blues, against Zebre, sees the return of record try-scorer Tom James to the starting line-up.

James – the top try scorer in the history of Cardiff Blues with 39 scores in 115 games – has returned for a second spell at the region and is now named in the starting side for the big league opener against the Italian outfit.

Wilson, who leads the region for the first time into PRO12 action, has named a strong line-up, despite nine players currently being away on international duty.

Rhys Patchell and Tavis Knoyle will combine in the half-backs 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 PRO12 debut at hooker, with Matthew Rees ruled out of the game after having his appendix removed.

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.

Meanwhile Zebre have handed a debut to Wallaby scrum-half Luke Burgess, who starts while George Biagi captains the team after missing out on selection for the World Cup.

Veteran Marco Bortolami is also in the squad, named on the bench, but it's a hugely inexperienced backline.

Full-back Kayle van Zyl, centres Tommaso Castello and Mattia Bellini and fly-half Maicol Azzolini are all making their PRO12 debuts, as are props Bruno Postiglioni and Pietro Ceccarelli for new coach Gianluca Guidi's side.

Form: Cardiff Blues have won on the opening weekend in four of the past five seasons and finished of their 2014/15 campaign with a 29-5 home win over Zebre to end a four game losing streak. The Blues have won their last three games at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park in the Guinness PRO12 whilst the only time they have been defeated at home by an Italian side was when Zebre were also the visitors in September 2013. Zebre have lost their last six Guinness PRO12 encounters since beating Dragons in Parma in round 16 and have won only twice away from home in the history of the franchise – the other being in Brive during last season's European Challenge Cup. The two sides have met on six previous occasions with the Blues having the edge by four wins to two.

The teams:

Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Aled Summerhill, 13 Tom Isaacs, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Tom James, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Manoa Vosawai, 7 Josh Navidi (c), 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 James Down, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Ethan Lewis, 1 Sam Hobbs.
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.

Zebre: 15 Kayle Van Zyl, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Tommaso Castello, 12 Mattia Bellini, 11 Michele Visentin, 10 Maicol Azzolini, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 7 Maxime Mbandà, 6 Paul Derbyshire, 5 George Biagi (c), 4 Michele Sutto, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Tommaso D’Apice, 1 Bruno Postiglioni.
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Emiliano Coria, 19 Marco Bortolami, 20 Johan Meyer, 21 Giulio Toniolatti, 22 Ulrich Beyers, 23 Matteo Pratichetti.

Date: Sunday, September 6
Venue: Cardiff Arms Park
Kick-off: 14:30 local (13:30 GMT)
Referee: Andy Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Television match official: Jon Mason (Wales)

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