Arguably the first truly global superstar any rugby code has produced, All Blacks behemoth Jonah Lomu’s legacy is inextricably linked to the 1995 Rugby World Cup. And less than two years after his devastating, Mike Catt-trampling performance at the tournament in South Africa, the late wing weapon’s name would become forever associated with sports video game greatness, courtesy of Jonah Lomu Rugby.
Released in March 1997, Jonah Lomu Rugby remains the standard bearer for rugby union games – a notoriously underwhelming genre – and generation-defining for the first wave of PlayStation users (it was also released in DOS and Sega Saturn formats).
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) July 22, 2019
Jonah Lomu Rugby was ahead of its time. The smooth gameplay and slick graphics (by 1990s standards) left previous union and league (and most sports) games in its dust. ‘Best rugby game ever made’ is a tag commonly associated with Jonah Lomu Rugby more than two decades later.
But a large chunk of Jonah Lomu Rugby’s cult status has to be attributed to contribution of legendary Scottish commentator Bill McLaren and his mopey offsider, former England captain Bill Beaumont. The duo’s catchphrases are embedded in the consciousness of any gamer who has slotted this disc into a PS1 tray.
Get nostalgic with these iconic exclamations from McLaren and Beaumont:
- “I wouldn’t like to be at the bottom of that!”
You can feel McLaren – who would have become a Scottish international if not for an untimely bout of tuberculosis – wincing as he remembers being at the mercy of opposing forwards’ studs in the ruck.
- Commentator 1: “Oh! Mercy me! What a tackle! That could’ve put him in Ward 4!” Commentator 2: “I hope not Bill, that’s a maternity ward!”
The best-remembered quip from Jonah Lomu Rugby. It’s kinda stupid when you think about it, but it nevertheless holds a place in the hearts of every devotee of this game.
- “The defence clearly shaken there”
Scandalous that no commentators have reprised the great line “It’s hot. It’s humid….and it’s sticky” from Bill McLaren in Jonah Lomu Rugby at #RWC2019
— Ron Boucher (@RonnyBouch) October 11, 2019
- “It’s hot, it’s humid and it’s sticky”
Another classic. One of the most oft-repeated phrases by fans of the game.
- Commentator 1: “Once again they’ve pinched it!” Commentator 2: “And that’s not for the first time.”
One of Bill and Bill’s more frequently-used one-two combos.
- “That was tremendous driving.”
- “It’s very untidy”
Jonah Lomu Rugby managed what its predecessors could not: making union’s more scrappy, complicated aspects – rucks, mauls et al – seem realistic. McLaren’s accompanying annotations added to the authenticity.
- “It’s there!”
- “Just where he wanted it!”
- “Going in like a wild cat!”
"Digs like a demented mole there" ?
Jonah Lomu Rugby – what a game ? pic.twitter.com/UTTizO8RVX
— Rugby Lives (@RugbyLives) October 23, 2017
- “Digs like a demented mole there!”
McLaren was fond of his animal analogies – and ‘demented mole’ is the first most Jonah Lomu Rugby tragics recall.
- “They don’t build ‘em like that anymore”
The commentary inserts didn’t always make sense.
- “How do you stop this man?!”
Many a commentator, fan, coach and player asked this essentially rhetorical question about big Jonah during his incomparable career. And if you held down the fend button, the eponymous superstar was very difficult to halt in Jonah Lomu Rugby.
- “Going in like a truck!”
- Commentator 1: “That’s a disappointing clearance.” Commentator 2: “He’ll be disappointed with that kick”.
So was the kick disappointing, or…?
- “A superb take. That was marvellous timing.”
Props for successfully making a difficult catch…
- “It was right down his throat! “
…and criticism of the kicker for an easy one.
- “It’ll be hard for them to come back now. “
Chances are you reached for the reset button after hearing McLaren’s lament.
- “If they win now, the party will still be going on next week”
- “And here’s the man himself. “
The man himself! Jonah was the most irresistible force in world rugby – and the game’s developers ensured having the giant winger on your team gave you a handy advantage.
- “That’s one of the best tries I’ve seen in this World Cup.”
Few Australian players were more popular than ‘Willie O’, the dynamic, powerhouse loose forward who was at the forefront of the Wallabies’ rise in the 1990s.
There was something particularly pleasing to the ears about the way McLaren’s Scottish accent carried superboot Michael Lynagh’s surname. The Queenslander played 72 Tests for the Wallabies from 1984-95.
- “Merhtens, with the restart.”
- “He hands them off like flies!”
Mixed metaphor maybe?
David Campese played the last of his then-record 101 Tests for the Wallabies in 1996, but McLaren’s shriek ensured the polarising winger stayed relevant.
- “They’re going in like cattle trucks in a shunting yard”
- “After that hit he’s going to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary!”
- “Like a Sherman tank going up the field there”
After animals, farming, hospital and military references were among McLaren’s favourites. The Sherman tank was used eloquently to describe rolling mauls.
- “That’s a HUGE Garryowen”
More widely known as an up-and-under or a bomb, ‘Garryowen’ became common rugby parlance – particular in the Northern Hemisphere – for a towering kick, named after the Irish club that popularised the tactic. Jonah Lomu Rugby took the term to a greater audience.
- “The crowd didn’t like that”
Bill McLaren passed away in 2010, aged 86, while Jonah Lomu tragically was just 40 when he died in 2015 of a heart attack associated with his kidney condition. Their legend, in part, lives on through a video game phenomenon, the likes of which rugby fans will probably never see again.