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Monday morning critics who believe they can out-coach Graham Henry and run rugby better than Steve Tew now have their chance, thanks to a Hamilton web design company.

Blackout Entertainment has just launched Blackout Rugby, an online computer game that allows the player to take control of a rugby club. As owner/manager, players can buy and sell players, run youth development systems, expand their stadium, arrange training schedules and set tactics.

Dozens of online sports management games already exist, with perhaps the best known being the Swedish-developed game Hattrick - a football game with nearly 1 million players worldwide. Blackout's Matthew Scobie believes the game he and business partner Jeremy Bell have developed is the first fully launched rugby management game.

The game went live last week, after several months of online testing. About 5000 people registered while the game was in development, and 200 to 300 people were active during testing.

"We're expecting the number to get up to 3000 users soon after the launch because several people opted not to play during beta testing," Mr Scobie said.

"My prediction for the first year is to overtake [online cricket game] Battrick when it comes to numbers online. They have 5000 active users, I think, and if we can overtake that I'll be rather happy."

Registrations have come from all corners of the world. England has around 1000 registered users, while rugby-mad New Zealand has around 700. The heart of Blackout Rugby is the game's match engine - the programme that generates the two games a week each club plays. Managers can select from a wide range of team tactics, and the engine has to be able to cope with the same sort of variables a fast-flowing rugby game can create - everything from props making intercepts to No 8 forwards dropping goals.

"We considered a simpler match engine, but in the end we decided we may as well do it properly because we want to build for the future," Mr Scobie said.

"So we built a match engine that literally just about breathes every pass - it plays properly in the background but the player can't see it. That's why the game took so long to build."

The game can be very complex and potentially time-consuming, but Mr Scobie did not see that as a potential turn-off for gamers.

"We've made it so it can take as much time or as little time as you want. It will only be a problem for those who want it to be a problem.

www.blackoutrugby.com