Ah, rugby! The violent majesty of unpadded, helmetless men laid low by fierce tackles! The heady not-passing-the-ball-forward action! The brawn-increasing effect of horizontally striped shirts! The sudden realization that this comprises the sum total of your rugby knowledge!

Let's face it: Hardcore rugby fans have this game already, and the question is whether others should buy a game they'll have to learn. Rugby 06 has a tutorial mode, in which you learn to scrummage, ruck, and line-out. Then Wikipedia can fill you in on what scrummaging, rucking, and line-out throws are, because the game assumes you already know. (That's okay; Madden 06 doesn't explain the counter trap.) So if the rest of the game functions smoothly, you should be able to learn as you go along, and soon you'll be off-loading the ball during tackles, scoring almost at will, and winning something called the Six Nations tournament, which is frankly pretty awesome.

And it does function fairly smoothly, albeit with some bad hiccups. Rucking and scrummaging‚ÄĒbasically two different versions of contesting ball-possession‚ÄĒare handled by simply pushing the stick forward and pressing a button once the ball can be played. This seems unfair, as it's a complex and tense part of the actual game. Worse, you'll lose the ball far more often than not‚ÄĒfor no discernable reason, even according to actual rugby-playing gamers. The computer opponent has magnet tackling and never gets a red card for clotheslining, but avoids your hits with ease. And the AI is near-telepathic, to the point where teams seem to move like schools of brawny fish.

Advertisement

Still, it's good fun. Rugby 06 isn't as pretty as the bigger EA Sports games, but it isn't as larded down with excess crap, either; just lots of teams, lots of tournaments, and what we'll assume are famous players in a good tough sport.

Beyond the game: This game makes you want to watch a televised match to learn more. Good luck on that.

Worth playing for: Learning is fun! And the game is balanced enough that it's possible to get Team USA pretty far into the World Rugby Championship, although winning it seems inappropriate.

Advertisement

Frustration sets in when: Winning the World Rugby Championship isn't possible, since you can't be the All Blacks (New Zealand) and Wallabies (Australia) simultaneously. Whichever one you aren't will beat you through, yes, rucking and scrummage.

Final judgment: For $30, it's worth seeing where tackle football came from.