Giving It A Try: Rugby Video Games - Jonah Lumo Rugby - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Giving It A Try: Rugby Video Games - Jonah Lumo Rugby

Chris Morley tries another rugby video game...

With the Six Nations now underway, time to look at a game endorsed by a quite literal giant of rugby in the shape of the late Jonah Lomu. Developed by Rage Software, published by Codemasters and released in 1997 for the PlayStation and Sega Saturn/Megadrive, Jonah Lumo Rugby allowed the player to choose from any of the qualifying teams from the 1995 World Cup, which was hosted by South Africa following the end of the apartheid policy - the hosts also winning it for the first time by 15-12.

Upon the final whistle at Johannesburg's Ellis Park, then-President Nelson Mandela, clad in Springboks shirt, gave the Webb Ellis Trophy to captain Francois Pienaar in a moment that went some way to beginning to unify a country which had seen many a rupture.

The Webb Ellis Cup was first contested in 1987, named for the Reverend William Webb Ellis who is said to have invented the sport of rugby itself in around 1823 as a young man by picking up a football & running with it during a school match at Rugby in Warwickshire! In a letter to the Meteor, the school's magazine, former classmate Matthew Bloxam added to what most now dismiss as urban legend.
"A boy of the name Ellis – William Webb Ellis – a town boy and a foundationer, ... whilst playing Bigside at football in that half-year [1823], caught the ball in his arms. This being so, according to the then rules, he ought to have retired back as far as he pleased, without parting with the ball, for the combatants on the opposite side could only advance to the spot where he had caught the ball, and were unable to rush forward till he had either punted it or had placed it for some one else to kick, for it was by means of these placed kicks that most of the goals were in those days kicked, but the moment the ball touched the ground the opposite side might rush on.

Ellis, for the first time, disregarded this rule, and on catching the ball, instead of retiring backwards, rushed forwards with the ball in his hands towards the opposite goal, with what result as to the game I know not, neither do I know how this infringement of a well-known rule was followed up, or when it became, as it is now, a standing rule." 
Little did Bloxam or Ellis know that a World Cup would eventually be contested in the new sport! Even more bewitching to them must've been the consideration, if suggested, of playing it virtually...

The World Cup mode of Jonah Lomu Rugby splits teams into the exact same pools as in that year's tournament - from an English perspective grouped in with Argentina, Italy and Western Samoa. Not that you had to know every nut & bolt of the game, as developer Rage Software's Trevor Williams would explain!
"We wanted a game that stayed true to the rules, but was easy to pick up and play without a complete understanding of all the ins and outs."
Which is most likely what contributed to a series of rave reviews, a copy of the game even stored in the national museum of New Zealand! Senior curator Sean Mallon explained...
"When these games first came out it was interesting that the rugby bosses chose a Pacific Islander and a Tongan to represent the game. This was part of the marketing of Jonah Lomu within the marketing of the international game.

So you have this Tongan man from New Zealand becoming the face of international professional rugby. And that’s part of a bigger story about how Pacific people became the face and the most marketable commodity in the professionalization of rugby."

The All Blacks themselves have a quite formidable record on the rugby field, the roots of the game in that part of the world stretching back to 1870, as first introduced by Charles Monro following the completion of his studies in London. Within around ten years a first British & Irish Lions team would tour the country, followed shortly after by the formation of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union.

Lomu's part in that story comes much later, but he is the youngest ever man to play for them having turned out in 1994 at the age of nineteen years & 45 days! 37 tries & 63 caps later out on the wing, he retired & would sadly pass away at the age of just 40 on November 18, 2015 following a battle with a kidney disorder.

In 2017 the game turned 20 years old, & Stuff New Zealand was quick to pay tribute.
“Rugby's a difficult game to replicate in a video game, with the complexities of the lineouts, rucks and mauls.

Jonah Lomu Rugby simplified it, focusing on passing and running, leaving everyone, even countries not exactly known for their rugby prowess like Thailand, Sri Lanka and Chinese Taipei, play like the All Blacks.

Well, maybe a little slower. Lomu himself was an unplayable beast, an unstoppable juggernaut with a hand off strong enough to repel the entopic decay of the universe. In the game he wasn't bad either. He was faster than everyone else. Stronger than everyone else, swatting away hordes of silly little English men simply by raising his hand in their direction. It was even possible to unlock an unbeatable team of 15 Lomus.”

At the 2015 Rugby World Cup on our shores, the Australian team even went so far as to put out a request for a Playstation & a copy of Jonah Lomu Rugby! Which was eventually answered in the affirmative through Twitter, room-mates Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell enjoying a little banter...
"He's played 60-odd tests now … I don't know how many World Cup games he's played, but to get as many tries as he has shows he's very lethal with the ball and he's a great finisher. Absolutely he belongs with [Lomu and Habana]. For me, there's no question. [But] I played him for a little while in [Jonah Lomu Rugby] and then I realised how bad he was."

Jonah would later lend his name to a successor series, Rugby Challenge arriving in 2011. It received mixed to positive reviews with many comparing it to the 1997 game, and, ultimately, preferring Lumo's first endorsement. The Telegraph stating that Jonah Lomu Rugby was...
"...the greatest computer game the sport has ever seen"
And the Irish Independent similarly describing it as...
"...the best rugby game ever made"
Its sequel, of sorts, didn't quite have the same legacy as either the 1997 PlayStation game or, indeed, the man himself.

After his passing, the New Zealand Herald noted...
“Jonah Lomu wasn't just the poster boy for the 1995 World Cup. He is the most recognisable symbol of all Rugby World Cups. Lomu's colossal first tournament - backed up by another terrific performance four years later - was such that his reputation was untainted by the All Blacks' so-called failures. No player has had such a devastating effect on the World Cup - he was a runaway train who will forever be recalled in romantic terms, except perhaps by those who tried to stand in his way.”
But he was all too fallible.
“Lomu was the perfect specimen, or so we thought. It emerged later he was already affected by a dreadful kidney illness diagnosed just before the tournament began, one to end his career prematurely.”
At the time of his death, his country's sports minister, Jonathan Coleman, would add that Lomu was...
"...the first global rugby superstar. A huge inspiration to Polynesian men and actually in later years with his battles against kidney disease, very inspirational to people suffering from chronic diseases as well”
A giant in every possible sense.

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