For many Americans, rugby is sort of like the quiet girl in your high school art class. You know the one--she sits in the corner most of the time and doesn't talk much. Even when she does talk, she doesn't make much sense. But if spend a little time with her, you realize there's a lot there under the surface. That's an apt description for Rugby 06 too, the latest in EA Sports' rugby series. It's a fast-paced sports game that doesn't always make sense--especially at first--but, much like your wallflower classmate, turns out to be a lot of fun once you get to know it.
And he's in for six! Err, make that five.
At its heart, rugby looks a lot like American football. It has its equivalent to the touchdown, the field goal, and the extra point; it has big beefy guys holding the line up front, and speedy ball handlers who move the ball up and down the field; it has passes, it has kicks, and, perhaps most importantly, it has tackles galore. But it's the twists in the gridiron formula that make rugby its own entity. It's also those twists--once you're familiar with them--which make Rugby 06 an enjoyable game to play.
Last year's game had a Rugby 101 tutorial with information on the basic elements of the game--from the distinctive backward passes that are indelible to the sport, to the finer points of the ruck and the scrum. The same tutorial is back this year, which means you'll have a pretty good idea of how to use the basic controls of the game, but not a very good understanding of when to use these varying mechanics. For that, you'll need to set up a match, start playing, and learn by trial and error.
It takes a while to figure out, for example, why everyone is always punting the ball away. Unlike the NFL, there are no "downs" in rugby, so why would you ever want to give away possession of the ball? With enough experience, you'll realize that ball possession is not as important as field position. In a single half, you can expect possession to change many times. As a general rule of thumb, if you're caught deep in your own territory, it's best to simply punt the ball away--often out-of-bounds--as opposed to possibly turning the ball over and setting your opposition up for an easy score.
To further assist you, Rugby 06 also features a basic training tutorial that teaches you some of the finer points of player control, such as the side step, the shoulder charge, and the hand off. Unfortunately, the default sideline camera angle makes some of these control mechanics--such as the side step--difficult to pull off on a regular basis. Unlike regular matches, where you can change the camera angle to a much more player-friendly end-to-end view, the sideline view in the basic training drill cannot be changed.
Rugby 06 features designed plays (also known as set plays) that unfold on the field in predetermined fashion, and at the higher difficulty levels you're going to need to be familiar with how plays like the dummy switch and the miss pivot work. While the game does give you the ability to practice set plays, it doesn't give you much more than a basic diagram of how the play is drawn up. It's conceivable that if you stare at the diagrams long enough, you'll figure them out. However, a bit more context--or even a more in-depth set-play tutorial beyond the nominal introduction video in the game--would have been welcome.
You think NFL guys are tougher than rugby guys? Go ahead and tell him that.
That said, you don't need to be a master rugby tactician to have fun with Rugby 06. Dive into a game on club-level difficulty (the lowest level available) and you'll likely have a good time running around willy-nilly, making those strange backward passes and kicking the ball all you like, without getting beat up too badly by the competition. The kicking controls are unchanged from last year's game and, once again, trying dropkicks (the rugby equivalent of a field goal) is all but impossible with the sideline view in the game, as you just don't get a good enough view of the angle on the field-goal uprights.
Once you've got some matches under your scrum cap, you can bump the difficulty up to pro or elite levels and really get a feel for some of the improvements that have been made to Rugby 06's gameplay. Most importantly, control tweaks such as the off-load passes, quick penalties, and quick line-outs add to the overall pace of the game and give you more options than ever for keeping the ball moving. The off-load pass is an especially important addition, as it gives you the ability to pass the ball to a teammate while being brought down by a defender. Players are generally smart when passing the ball in a tackle, though it's important to use it at the right time. If you attempt a pass when no teammates are around, you're setting yourself up for an easy interception. Once you've played with off-load passing for a while and realize its value to keep a play moving, you'll wonder why it was ever missing from previous games in the series in the first place.