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Rugby 06

Scrum down for a look at EA's brand new Rugby offering - just in time for the six nations next weekend

Who cares if cricket is the new rugby is the new football? We're still riding high from Mr Wilkinson's last-minute winning drop-kick again the Aussies back in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final. As good as Freddie 'Andrew' Flintoff is, he didn't steal victory from under the noses of a 15- man death squad with seconds to the whistle in quite such spectacular style, did he (nope he just kept sticking it to them over 25 days of the best cricket on the planet - Cricket loving C&VG Ed)?

Well, Electronic Arts, distinguished purveyor of the annual sports update, has been busy ferreting away, putting the FIFA and NHL teams hard at work to produce this little effort, possibly the finest looking rugby game we've seen yet. And boy oh boy, what a chock-full little baby it's shaping up to be as well.

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The Six Nations, Lion's Tour, Tri Nations, Guinness Premiership and Super 14 competitions will form the backbone of the gameplay, allowing you to take part in just about every major event in the rugby calendar. But EA has been learning a few lessons, so it seems. As well as cramming Rugby 06 with the usual licensed names, players, sponsors and tournaments, the fundamental gameplay mechanic has had an overhaul.

EA is proudly boasting that Rugby 06 'mirrors the real thing', and has introduced all manner of previously unseen and untested fancy-pants rugby tactics. You can now use the off-load pass to get rid of a ball when set upon by impenetrable walls of opponents, just as you can take quick line-outs to keep the momentum of the game going. We remember a few really rubbish rugby games on PSOne that were notorious for stop-starting every few yards for line-outs, but Rugby 06 is about keeping the game alive, and keeping it on its toes. If you like your games slow, tedious and full of hundreds of incomprehensible by-laws, you're probably a statistics-obsessed American and will be wanting some sort of dull NFL game.

Penalty-taking has now been streamlined too in an attempt to keep the game 'momentum driven', and also to encourage plenty of attacking. Another new feature, something EA is calling 'Impact Play', will enable you to cherry-pick from a selection of players and dictate precisely what strengths the squad should have. This, EA hopes, will enable you to consistently keep any rival player on his toes, as you shift from being a forward-driven, attacking squad to a more defensive one, depending on your opponent.

You'll also be able to take all these great new features and tournaments and put them to use in the settings of just about every major ground in the world. 'Fortress' Twickenham, Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, grubby old Lansdowne Road and the imposing 1970s car park of Murrayfield are all in so far, while rugger pundits Ian Robertson and Grant Fox do the honours behind the mic. All we need is a post-match bath simulator for the ladies and a Gameface mode powerful enough to recreate Shane Byrne's horrible teeth, and we reckon this could be the best rugby game seen on Xbox.

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