He was also a late inclusion for that game though it was to be his last following a terminal and much publicised falling out with Steve Hansen. Now, albeit due to Wales' growing list of injuries, he returns with the aim of proving he can still mix it at the top level.
"I thought the phone call asking me to join the Wales training sessions this week was a wind up," admitted James. "After three years in the wilderness I was so pleased just to be considered but to be included in the team is quite a surreal experience. I've been in a bit of a daze since MIke (Ruddock) told me. It's like getting my first cap all over again.
"I've got a wealth of experience but it's like being the new boy again with all the new faces in the squad."
James's recall is testimony to his refusal to give in despite watching his Wales career lurch towards the rocks when the row with Hansen for allegedly breaking a curfew at their Vale of Glamorgan base was followed by a serious shoulder injury and an ill-fated move to Harlequins last season. But fatherhood and a return in the summer to Llanelli Scarlets, where he enjoyed his most successful period, has galvanised the former favourite of Graham Henry with 13 Test tries to his name.
"I'm certainly enjoying my rugby a lot more these days. It has been difficult. Dropping out of the squad was probably an accumulation of injury, loss of form and some bad decisions," said James. "Going to Harlequins was probably one of those. I really wanted to play in the English Premiership and Quins were, and still are, a great club. But for me they were probably the wrong club at the wrong time. They were struggling and my game was effected as a result. I was miserable and my hunger for the game dwindled.
"But it's all water under the bridge. You have to live by your decisions and I've moved on. I've always held onto the ambition of playing for Wales again. I have a point to prove now. I've been on the outside for three years but now I've been given this opportunity so I have to perform."
James is one of six changes to a Wales team still affected by the loss of six British Lions but in desperate need of rediscovering the spark that won the Grand Slam just eight months ago.
Stephen Jones returns from club duty in France to win his 50th cap. Duncan Jones, Robert Sidoli and Colin Charvis also start against South Africa while 23-year-old hooker Rhys Thomas gets the nod ahead of Mefin Davies. Skipper Gareth Thomas returns but does so outside Sonny Parker in the centre as young Lee Byrne retains his place at full-back.
"It's not ideal because we've had to deal with a lot of injuries and I was happy at full-back," said Thomas. "But I'm confident in the players and the team even though people are writing us off. It's time for this team to stand up."
Another headache for Ruddock is the row with Sale Sharks over Mark Taylor that prompted the centre's release from the Wales camp this week. Sale insist they have a clause to play Taylor in the Guinness Premiership this weekend but Ruddock has asked the Welsh Rugby Union to pursue the matter with the International Rugby Board.
Wales: L Byrne (Llanelli Scarlets); D James (Llanelli Scarlets), G Thomas (capt, Toulouse), S Parker (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Clermont Auvergne), G Cooper (Newport Gwent Dragons); D Jones (Ospreys), R Thomas (Cardiff Blues), C Horsman (Worcester), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), R Sidoli (Cardiff Blues), C Charvis (Newcastle Falcons), M Owen (Newport Gwent Dragons), M Williams (Cardiff Blues)
Replacements: M Davies (Gloucester), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Newport Gwent Dragons), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Phillips (Cardiff Blues), C Sweeney (Newport Gwent Dragons), M Watkins (Llanelli Scarlets)