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Just in time for the quadrennial Rugby World Cup in September, the toughest sport on the planet makes a return appearance to your PlayStation 2 in the form of Rugby 08.

Pads? Helmets? Bah – those are for wimps. If you know your rucks from your mauls and your blood bins from your scrums, you’ll be right at home with Electronic Arts’ latest tribute to football’s forebear. What’s that – you don’t? No worries, as it teaches you the basics and lets you go from there.

The muddied, rough and tumble action on the field is quite solid, although the movement can get slightly choppy when the action gets overheated. The controls respond particularly well; some nifty dual analog stick tactics let your carrier sidestep, smash into, or otherwise pummel the opposing tacklers with relative ease, while the ruck, line out, and kicking mechanics are intuitive too. Knowing that many of us Yanks will be wholly unfamiliar with much of the goings on at the outset, the fairly good controls tutorial and additional in-depth training really let you soak up the knowledge and familiarize yourself with the fundamentals.

Even though “World Cup” isn’t in the game’s title, this year’s tournament is represented here in its entirety. You can jump right into the 2007 Cup as one of dozens of international sides; help New Zealand’s legendary All Blacks regain the title that’s eluded them since the inaugural tournament in 1987, pilot their archrival Aussies to the championship, captain the defending champs England in pursuit of a repeat, or take any of the other qualified countries through pool play to the Finals.

Once the Cup has come and gone, though, there are plenty of other ways to mix it up. Our personal favorite is the Challenge Mode, which dumps you in historical World Cup scenarios and gives you the chance to accomplish some feats that did – and didn’t – happen in the past. There are also some other licensed tournaments, featuring both international and club play. Lastly is the World League, similar to Winning Eleven‘s Master League mode. You take a third-division squad, manage the players, team chemistry, salaries, and transfer markets with the goal of advancing up a rung each season. The World League in particular really gives Rugby 08 some legs, although it’s no easy task to turn your chumps into world champs.

Ultimately, you don’t need to be well-schooled in the sport to get a kick out of Rugby 08 – and if you’re not, the rollicking good time you’ll have will pique your interest. Sporting all the best players in the world, plenty of depth, and the chance to smash some helmet-less faces into the mud, it’s a title that we can really sink our teeth into. Once we find them, that is.

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