The last word: 2 April

A crowd of 91,553 fans attended the women’s El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp...
A crowd of 91,553 fans attended the women’s El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou in Barcelona, breaking the record for a women’s football crowd. PHOTOS: REUTERS

Digging ...

Here are some words to frighten any editor.

Let’s talk about a video game.

But not just any game. The GOAT. The one that influenced a generation, stole thousands of hours of our lives, and imprinted phrases like "Mercy me, what a tackle, that could have put him in ward four" and names like "Laksangasongpong" into many a young gamer’s brain.

Thursday was 25 years since the release of the immortal Jonah Lomu Rugby on the PlayStation.

Named for a young winger who had recently announced himself to the world at the Rugby World Cup, the game was and remains an utterly bewildering success.

At a time when Fifa and Madden were taking control of sports gaming, and rugby was a largely amateur sport ignored by most of the globe, leading publisher Codemasters commissioned a game that would immediately join a virtual pantheon.

It was developed by Rage Software, a company that sadly went bankrupt in 2003.

... like a ...

What made Jonah Lomu Rugby great? A few things.

It was just extremely playable. Rugby is a weirdly complicated game, thanks largely to the breakdown and the unusual set pieces, but the developers found a fantastic balance between a relatively accurate representation of the sport and enjoyable gameplay.

Rugby in the 1990s, as the sport straddled the amateur and domestic eras, was a bit more open, a bit loosey-goosey, and Lomu reflected that with a fast-paced style that mainly involved running and passing.

It had real players, and it was a genuine thrill to control the strapping Lomu and the insanely quick Jeff Wilson, and play a World Cup final between the All Blacks and Springboks.

Lomu, by the way, was basically a cheat code. There was a fend control, and if you spammed it, well, big Jonah could literally run through an entire team to score.

You could play the World Cup, the Tri-Nations and the Five Nations (as it was). All the major rugby nations were represented. And, amazingly, the developers threw in a bunch of other teams — I had to google this, and it was THIRTY-TWO — including such noted rugby powerhouses as Chinese Taipei, Spain and the Netherlands.

There were also unlockable teams, including the absolutely brilliant Lomu XV, featuring our beloved Jonah wearing all 15 jerseys.

... demented mole

Above all, perhaps, the legacy of the greatest rugby game of all time is a series of catchphrases that would otherwise make very little sense.

Tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams pose on the red carpet during the Oscars arrivals in Los...
Tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams pose on the red carpet during the Oscars arrivals in Los Angeles. Will Smith won the best actor oscar for his portrayal of Richard Williams in King Richard , the story of their father’s life.

The developers managed to secure the services of the wonderful Scottish commentator Bill McLaren and deadpan former English captain Bill Beaumont, now the chairman of World Rugby, and they made an incredible combination.

I don’t know if they had scriptwriters or they came up with their own banter, but they just ooze a sense of whimsy and fun.

If you say "Lomu!" or "They don’t build ‘em like that any more" or "It’s hot, it’s humid and it’s sticky" to people who played the game, watch their eyes take on a mystical look.

Or two of the great interchanges:

McLaren: "Oh! Mercy Me! What a tackle! That could've put him in ward four!"

Beaumont: "I hope not, Bill, that's a maternity ward."

And:

McLaren: "Once again they’ve pinched it!”

Beaumont: “And that’s not for the first time.”

Perhaps the most quoted line was McLaren saying: "He’s digging like a demented mole in there."

There have been other rugby games. Modern titles have fancier graphics, more options, deeper gameplay mechanics.

But only one is in Te Papa (true story). There is only one Jonah Lomu Rugby. They don’t make ‘em like that any more.

Sailing away

What is left to say about Team New Zealand’s decision to hold the defence of the America’s Cup in Spain?

It’s great sporting action once the sailing starts, but this is the sort of junk that makes people wonder why we bother.

There must never again be a cent of public money given to this event.

High hoops

I am more of a little penguin man than a yellow-eyed fan, but is nice to see the Southern Hoiho unveiled as our team in the new national women’s basketball league.

This is another big step for a women’s sporting code. And the sky is the limit with basketball, one of the few genuinely global sports.

I just hope the grandly named Tauihi Basketball Aotearoa, like Super Rugby Aupiki, gets a chance to develop naturally.

Don’t bang on at us about "soaring" and "uplifting energy" and"opening up a lot of conversations". Give us exciting action, drama and box-office players, and the rest will come.

One shot for glory

Ooooh boy, here we go again.

The All Whites have cruised through Oceania qualifying and are one game away from the World Cup.

Beating Costa Rica in a one-off game in June is an immense challenge, but with so much at stake, and some real talent in our national team, we can start to dream.

RIP, King

The Last Word unexpectedly watched every minute of the Shane Warne memorial on Wednesday night.

What a great way to farewell the man. Wonderful tributes, great music and three seriously impressive children.

Vale, Warnie.

hayden.meikle@odt.co.nz

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