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email templates: how to edit {product} in order.conf ?

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I can play-around with email templates, but how do I edit what their smarty tags call ?
I want to make two emails exactly the same, and can do the html part, but it looks as though I need to edit the {products} tag to make it work like the {items} tag, and the tags dont work if swapped around.  From bo> localization  >email templates > etc>

  •  core emails > order.conf uses a {products} tag 
  •  mailalerts > new_order uses an {items}  tag

core emails > order.conf  garbles customizations a little; it adds the product name and price twice, although the total is OK

mailalerts > new_order copes better


I'm sure there are other work-arounds (I could find some email service that sends new_order to the customer),
but it would be good to know how smarty tags work
any help welcome

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Email templates don't have smarty tags. There are only placeholders that will be replaced with *static* content. This means that there can be no loops, no if/else, or other control blocks in the email templates. Which sucks.

Replacement content is defined by php code. Usually it is retrieved from existing data (order reference code, customer name, etc...). In some special cases (like here), the content is generated by evaluating smarty template. Template returns static html markup, which is then replaced into the email template. 

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