By Andy Colquhoun
And so it begins. As the first major news of the year trickled out from Rugby Control at Boundary Road, the struggle to maintain a sceptical perspective on the prospects for the coming year - a World Cup year after all - was joined in earnest.
Not that it's all that easy to get carried away this year. If the announcement of the four Super 12 squads caused a sudden but irrational leap of hope in your heart and you felt your pulse quicken in anticipation just stick in a video of the Springboks' end-of-year tour - any of the three matches will do, it doesn't really matter.
Watching the Boks blunder their way to record defeats in France, Scotland and England is the perfect antidote to wild fantasising that this might finally be the year that South African rugby comes good (and if this column at any time loses touch with its wits and predicts that the Boks are going to win the World Cup then please, do your community a service and report the author to your nearest psychiatric hospital).
But before the men in white coats come calling, let's talk about the Super 12, a competition in which SA has had the distinction of providing the bottom team each season (if not the bottom two) and last year went for broke with three in the bottom three; outstanding effort, really.
The response has been the same as usual; change the coaches and the squads and send a new lot of lambs bleating to the slaughter.
"Lambs" is the appropriate description too; 10 of last year's under-21 World Cup winning team are in the four squads with another, prop Pat Barnard, due to be allocated to the Stormers or Cats next week - his destination is dependent on a fitness test being taken on Monday by Cobus Visagie.
A 12th, Jean de Villiers, is unfit while Clyde Rathbone is in Australia and only lock Stefan "Windpomp" van Rooyen and hooker Gary Botha have not made it (and their days will surely come). In addition three of last year's under-19 squad (who finished third in their version of the world cup in Italy) have been given a Super 12 chance in Luke Watson, Jaque Fourie and Derick Hougaard.
They are among the 27 Super 12 newcomers in the squads (11 with the Bulls and 10 with the Cats by
the way) and half as many again will be in their second seasons.
Heyneke Meyer (Bulls) and Frans Ludeke (Cats) have been sacked as coaches and just to show that South Africa's pathological fear of continuity is still deeply in place, of the 67 players from all three nations with more than 50 appearances who played in 2002, only seven of the South Africans will be returning in 2003.
This year 53 players have been jettisoned although 10 have retired or are overseas while another four are in rehab. Of the balance eight are Springboks and one of them - Delarey du Preez - a 2002 Springbok.
At this distance I can't see a South African semifinalist although there may be plenty of excitement with Tim Lane's Cats likely to start with five or even six black players in a (Shimange, Sephaka, Jordaan or Januarie, Jacobs, Bobo and maybe Willemse) team that also includes Skinstad and Van Niekerk.
The authorities have taken sensible decisions for the right reasons and I've no argument with the selections or changes. There are good reasons for the musical chairs and we're promised that a system has been put in place that will work.
But its benefits won't be felt until next season and, to be honest, after the agonies of November we're probably all a bit sick of promises and new dawns so, for the time being, thank you but we'll just sit back and enjoy a display of potentially world-beating expertise from the cricketers.