Get him! Jump on him! Kick his face off!" In our lunchtime testing facility, our usually genteel manners disintegrate. It's the PES instincts kicking in - with the options reduced to clearing it, passing backwards or trying to weave through all the attackers with the sprint button jammed down, everybody picks the latter. Tackles are high or late: scrums are a dirty mess. William Webb Ellis, the inventor of rugby, would probably cry.
Take the time to get to know the game, though, and there's a surprising amount of depth there. An excellent tutorial and series of exercises should tweak your skills at the new system, including an introduction to the offensive/defensive set-pieces that are key if you're going to take on the World Cup. Timing handoffs and sidesteps is tricky - especially on the default camera angles, where defenders come out of nowhere - but worth mastering if you're going to attempt runs. The kicking's been improved, with an excellent whackometer for spontaneous drop kicks and a more involved golf-swing system for penalties and conversions.
Scrums and mauls have slightly more control, with an option to wheel the pack around if it's to your advantage. Line-outs, punts and knock-ons are all cleverly dealt with, letting you keep the pace up when you're on the attack. Decent AI makes for forgiving gameplay too, with the computer taking up the slack when you scuff a tackle and can't quite switch players quick enough to stop a runner.
What lets Rugby down slightly is the presentation. Sure, the animation is smooth and there's a realistic stickiness to the way the players' body heat mists up the air and cameras with sweat. But it suffers from hard-to-recognise, generic players.
And if the fly-halves look plastic, then the commentary's wooden as flat-pack shelving - two steps behind the play, it repeats itself slightly too much for comfort. Most stupidly - and rectifiably - of all, pressing q skips replays, so if you're hammering it to try and retrieve the ball, you're probably going to miss seeing the beautiful tackle that takes your player down in all its close-up glory.
Still. Rugby players aren't pretty, and the commentators aren't exactly known for their banter. The game's the thing, and Rugby 08 plays a mean one. Dry those eyes, Webb Ellis - your rucking-based team sport has a new lease of life.
Overall Not just for Rugby experts, this latest edition puts up a decent enough game to be fun for anyone.