I hate rugby union. But not once, not even at 7:30am when my alarm woke me up, did I think I was mad for going to Birmingham to play a rugby union game. Because I played World Championship Rugby, and I found it really enjoyable. If Swordfish had done their homework, they could make the best rugby game out there. And guess what, they have. Rugby Challenge 2006 is one of the most enjoyable games Iâ€™ve ever played. It is just raw fun. I, along with Boy (Andy), were sat down in front of an enormous television (probably the best television Iâ€™ve ever seen!), and given a controller each. Already on the massive screen, the game was playing in demo mode, and right away I spotted the authentic Saracens kit, though I didnâ€™t notice who they were playing. I left it a while, keeping a close eye on it, and I was staggered at just how realistic a lineout looked. The barrel chested hooker launched the ball to the back of the lineout, where it was flicked backwards and the kick was hit downfield, very realistic. After a quick pep talk from Ian (the man who deserves all your praise for the brilliance of Brian Lara International Cricket), off we went. The menu instantly gives off the impression that there is much to do in this game. And it isnâ€™t an impression thatâ€™s wrong, though I will go into that later. We started off with a friendly match, with Bath playing Saracens. This game is pleasantly up to date. Considering the actual game has been nigh on complete for some time, the effort taken by Swordfish to keep the game as up to date as possible is extremely commendable. A player signed by Bath at the end of the September (I wonâ€™t pretend I know who he is) is in the game. Big raps to Swordfish for that â€“ it is ultimately more important to tweak gameplay than update teams, but theyâ€™ve made the effort to do both. So, with my hatred of Jason Robinson too much to be able to select Sale, I turned my attention to the less-prolific-against-St Helens Andy Farrell in Saracens. Well, he wasnâ€™t in the starting XV, but whoever the starting outside centre was didnâ€™t last too long! The players were soon lining up, looking accurate with correct kits (minus any alcohol brands). I could recognise some faces, the game looks excellent. As do the stadiums and the pitch. The crowds are as realistic looking as you could wish for (letâ€™s face it â€“ not important is it?) and do vary in size from one game to another. The pitch looks fantastic too. We kicked off, and I drove the ball in hard. CRUNCH! The noise effects are superb â€“ just like the Jonah Lomu Rugby of old times. You donâ€™t immediately notice the commentary, but itâ€™s there and itâ€™s fine. It is just right â€“ not too much, not too little. So, the ball is on the floor, and rather clumsily, I pile people in at this huge mess. A coloured circle around my scrum half tells me that I have won the ball, and so I fling the ball right. I agree with Boy that on occasion the passing animation from the base of a scrum/ruck/maul can be a bit clumsy, but again, that really isnâ€™t important when all said and done, the ball heads where you tell it to. The ball does sometimes go to ground though, depending on how much distance you want on the pass. I decide to move the ball quickly, and double tap R1, missing out a man and enabling me to take it out wide. Quickly, I bring one of my forwards into the game, and I knock one of the backs staggering backwards as I brush him off, without using the fend button. It is very noticeable that there is a strength difference in this game. Forwards can easily shrug off backs. Thatâ€™s not to say that backs canâ€™t tackle forwards though; I found the best way to combat the strength problem was to let them go slightly past before making a tackle. There are lots of different tackle animations, and the one most effective against strength is a tackle from slightly behind as it goes for the leg, and as my uncle has always said to me: â€œYou canâ€™t go anywhere without your legs.â€ As I continued to move the ball about to test the passing, I embarked on a long spell of possession, driving the ball forward towards Boyâ€™s sticks, but I couldnâ€™t break through. Then, a maul developed, and I stared at the screen, puzzled. There were 2 oval shapes above our respective teams; with Iâ€™d say about 1/8th of it shaded a colour. A white dot was revolving around the oval. Ah ha, I thought, I get this idea. The idea is to stop the dot in the middle of the coloured bit, and this moves your maul forward. On the flip side, the defending team has to try and stop the push as much as possible! This is a very good system, it doesnâ€™t involve a great deal of button bashing, nor does it tax the brain and itâ€™s just very accessible. It doesnâ€™t slow the game down and if you use it right you can make mega yards. It takes Boy a few second to suss it out, but when he does he manages to slow me right down, and the ball finds its way to the scrum half and off I go again, looking to exploit space down the wing. No matter how much I huffed and puffed, I couldnâ€™t put the ball down over the line. And I spent the latter stages of the first half defending my own line, cowardly running the ball into touch to stop my winger being isolated after turning the ball over. And so, the half time whistle blew, giving myself a chance to have a think about what Iâ€™d seen so far. It was sheer fun, although Iâ€™d had no chance to score yet. There is a bit of half time review, including the legendary â€œfancy a pie?â€ comment, although to be honest, we were so keen to continue with the game we just got on with it. I kicked off for the second half, with a traditional, deep rugby league kick off. Body met body, and a tremendous hit saw the Bath player tumble to the ground. It looked like a spear tackle, but it was perfectly legal. â€œSpear tackle!â€ I cried, jokingly. â€œNot a chanceâ€ said Boy. â€œTeams in black donâ€™t get punished for spear tackles.â€ From this kick off, Bath controlled the game, slowly and steadily making yards, before there was a sudden break about 30 yards out. I missed a simple tackle, and all of a sudden my winger was left 2 on 1 and the pass was timed perfectly for an easy score. The winger jumped up, throwing the ball to the floor before being mobbed by his team mates. We also spotted some badge thumping. (Any chance the guys at Swordfish could go back and put the EASY! EASY! EASY! celebration in? ) I knew I was up against it from this moment on, even though the kick drifted wide. The kicking system has had a makeover, and I like it a lot. Pick your direction (accounting for, if applicable, wind), pick the power youâ€™d like, and then get the place on the sliding bar correct. Sounds like a hassle, but it really isnâ€™t. Get it wrong though, and you will, as the commentators like to joke â€œendanger the crowd.â€ On the other hand, give it a good thump and you get a camera angle directly behind the successful kick as it sails over. Brilliant! With time running out I decided to adopt a more adventurous approach, getting the ball to my wingers and backing myself to outpace Boyâ€™s. However, I never really looked like getting the breakthrough needed, although I knocked on the door a few times. On one occasion, I wanted to go from the base of the ruck and run cross field but I pressed triangle and as I was quite close to the line, booted the ball straight into the crowd. With time running out I sadly succumbed to a second try, which ended the game although the kick was unsuccessful. With a game of experience under our belt we decided to take the step up to the international level, and England (complete with Charlie Hodgson at fly half) under the stewardship of Boy, clashed horns with Australia. A good idea; with the autumn international match the day after. The time though, I hit top form, and absolutely pulverised Boy, running over 5 tries and converting 4 of them in a 33-5 victory. The pace of the Australian wingers caused Boy a lot of trouble, and I managed to sneak a few forwardsâ€™ tries as well, just by running at an angle. It is easier to get the ball out wide, but that wouldnâ€™t be a challenge would it? This time my attempts to kick and run onto the ball were a bit more successful, a bold move on my own 22 seeing me get down to the England 22, although it came to nothing. During this game however, we REALLY got to grips with the sidestep button, the range of moves you can pull off are exceptional. A winger dances and jinks, a forward tries to make himself as small as possible. Imagine my delight when my forward stepped past a player, and offloaded perfectly to put a back through a gap to make a 35 yard break. After one win each, we decided to align forces and played on the same team (England) against a poor team, so we picked some random Italian team. But the AI defence was very impressive and the expected thrashing never materialised. In fact we spent a lot of time on the back foot although the ball was turned over frequently. I canâ€™t remember the score but it was far from a cricket one, we found it hard to exploit gaps although we were trying new things like hand offs. After this, we though weâ€™d have a look at the career mode. You can choose your team name, you can choose your team badge and you can choose your team kits. Very thorough. And then, the squad is brilliant. And thatâ€™s because I play at number 3, loose head prop. Freak bit of luck, further freakier by the fact that Boyâ€™s brother Robbinho was at number 8. Youâ€™re all in there somewhere; you just need to play the career mode a lot to see. You have a small amount of cash as you start; the idea is to go along save up and buy better players. You also have to make the players you have better. You can choose a training session you want to have before a game (you do have to have one though, and each session takes $25 from your kitty.) I played Bristol in my first game, and I was 5-0 up early on after I set the platform with a blockbusting run. I only played the first half of this game, but I felt I could score if I turned it up a few gears. I did mention this to Ian later, who was happy to admit that the career mode wasnâ€™t too difficult. He was anxious it wasnâ€™t as absurdly difficult as Rugby 04/05â€™s career mode, which can take three seasons before you can afford to buy one player. Boy played the second half, and although he didnâ€™t add to the scoreline, dictated play. We then cast our eye over the unlockable content. I wonâ€™t spoil them, but they are fiendishly difficult, are some of them. In fact, I am smiling thinking at how hard youâ€™re going to find a couple of them. You wonâ€™t be beating Rugby Challenge 2006 overnight. There is a lot of gear to unlock; youâ€™ll all be pleasantly surprised. We decided to have one more match as I brought the All Blacks to the fray. I lost out 8-5 to, of all things, a Steve Thompson drop goal. Weâ€™d been trying drop goals all day â€“ it amused me that a hooker kicked a winning drop goal. I absolutely pounded, hammered, battered the England line for the last half an hour of the match, but they hung on. I looked set to crash in at the corner on two occasions, but on both occasions I was thwarted by fantastic wing play in defence. With the crowd baying for the whistle, I knocked on and the game was won. That game summed up what RC06 is about for me. Fun, fun, fun. If youâ€™re looking for an arcade experience, look no further. If youâ€™re looking for simulation, still look no further. If youâ€™re looking for fun, look no further. This is an excellent game produced by an honest, upfront and dedicated team that listen to both fans and critics. I was very sad to learn that this is probably Swordfishâ€™s last sports game. I do hope Vivendi allow them to do what they do best, but Trev and Ian seem resigned to the fact. Letâ€™s hope they see sense, eh? I would like to thank Trev and Ian once again for this visit, and I hope you all will too. They have done this for the good of TRF, which they have also been kind enough to host whilst this game has been on going. And I have written this for the good of TRF. This is an excellent game.