With the exception of a few rare titles doing well, rugby has always been one of the poor relations in the world of the video game industry. In the middle of a melee of failed titles, botched by publishers reluctant to invest in a niche market, a nugget marked the history of video games: Jonah Lomu Rugby (published by Codemasters and released in 1997 on PlayStation, then Saturn and PC).
A release which marked the imagination of a generation of players despite some flaws noted by critics at the time, such as a graphics part created with a chainsaw. It doesn't matter if the faces of Abdellatif Benazzi or Christian Califano looked more like an amalgam of Lego bricks destroyed with sledgehammers, the very fast handling and impressive playability allowed Rage Software's production to become a benchmark value .
Reference site, jeuxuxxvideo.com had given a score of 17/20 to Jonah Lomu Rugby, highlighting the “quality and fun” of the game as well as the “delirious comments”, “unique in their kind”. Because if this simulation was so successful in France, it is also partly thanks to the totally offbeat soundtrack which accompanied all the actions. Let's quote loosely: "He digs like an angry mole", "What a cuckoo kick!", "It's going to send him to the nearest clinic... I hope not Jean Louis, she specializes in childbirth! ”, “And there he is again like a bull! » or “A nice tackle, fast and hard!”.
It is to Denis Charvet, former international, and Jean-Louis Calméjane, a duo of rugby commentators on France TV at the time, that we owe these crazy expressions that remain in our memories. “Jean-Louis and I were commenting on the second match of the Tournament. Initially, the studio turned to Pierre Salviac and Pierre Albaladejo and I don't know why, they ended up refusing. We were offered this very cool project,” recalls Denis Charvet, who was not a video game enthusiast at the time, far from it. “I had to play Mario Bros and a little on the coffee machines, nothing more,” continues the center with 23 selections. “It remains a wonderful memory, perhaps one of the best of my career because the project was completely different from what I was used to,” says Jean-Louis Calméjane.
The two men accept and find themselves in a studio in the 15th arrondissement of Paris surrounded by British people working for the studio. “It was not DIY, very professional, on the contrary,” explains Charvet, who inherits a list of expressions literally translated from English to French, without adaptation. The former Stade Toulousain player takes a quick look and says: “That immediately caught my attention. I didn’t want to repeat these sentences which made no sense at all!”
He suggests some corrections but his interlocutors remain inflexible. “They didn’t want to change a single comma, nothing! It was still surprising. But I was committed so we started working with Jean-Louis,” explains Charvet who remembers receiving 5,000 francs at the time (a little less than 1,000 euros). “It was still a nice sum compared to the work done over two days and rugby was not football at the time…”, smiles, amused, Denis Charvet.
“With these comments, I remember having one of the biggest laughs of my career. We couldn't stand it anymore with Denis trying to come up with the famous phrase of the angry mole or that of the hospital which have become legendary for all players. This word for word translation didn't make much sense but they didn't want to hear anything,” recalls Jean-Louis Calméjane, fatalistic, like his friend. “I said to myself, 'This is going to be terrible, they're making fun of us. And then we took it seriously.”
“I don’t remember a very difficult job,” admits Charvet, helped by an assistant to adjust the intonations. They were super picky about speaking. It was not only necessary to say sentences but also to perform it while constantly being in exaggeration. I wouldn't have said it that way, but they seemed to know their subject well."
Calméjane remembers finding himself in a booth in front of a microphone to recite all the players' names in several versions depending on the type of action. Boring but meticulous work. Controller in hand, we sometimes wonder if Calmejane was not suffering from a stuttering attack while shouting “Me-Me-Me-Me-Mertens!”, when the brilliant Kiwi No. 10 signed an action. “I had hundreds of names with four different intonations and emotions to interpret. When it’s Saint-André, it’s fine, but when I got to the Sri Lankan players, it was more complicated!”, summarizes the former voice of the oval on France 2.
Today, Calmejane and Charvet admit that these famous expressions have slipped their minds a little. But this experience continued with them for many years. “They regularly bring out the expressions to me on the Moscato Show (a show on RMC in which he appears). At the time, it must be said that these comments were quite revolutionary for a sports video game,” underlines Charvet. Jean-Louis Calméjane is also entitled to booster shots from time to time. “The other day, people stopped me in Bayonne, talking to me about the mole or the hospital, I don’t know exactly. It’s nice because in the end, people appreciated it and it gave them good memories.”
Many years after the game's release, in 2015, Jonah Lomu himself recalled memories of the simulation. “He was a hit because he was really easy to play. Everyone could have fun with it. You could even play with your girlfriend. And then the comments were funny,” the All Blacks legend, who died at the age of 40 of a heart attack, told So Foot and was capable, both on the field and in the game, of crossing the field, knocking down all the players.
On the screen, it was enough to effectively grind down opponents reduced to simple dominoes by pressing the keys in a synchronized manner. “By talking about this subject, I realize that I have met this exceptional player and this adorable and sunny boy that Jonah was many times and I never spoke to him about the game. I think he never knew who was hiding behind the French voices. It remains a short but amusing episode in my life and I am happy to have associated my name in a certain way, even from a very distance, with this legend of the All Blacks,” concludes Denis Charvet with emotion.