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Well, that didn’t go quite to plan.

We were at the AIS Arena earlier tonight to cheer on the Vice City Rollers, the ACT’s all-star Roller Derby team, against their Victorian counterparts.  It’s a great venue, holding over three times the audience than the CRDL’s usual venue at Southern Cross Stadium and with a stage for the prematch/halftime entertainment (Annie and the Armadillos, who deftly worked Derby references into their tunes in honour of the occasion), an electronic scoreboard that showed team scores, jam number, the time left in the jam, who the current lead jammer was and all sorts.  Oh, and food counters that were right there in the arena and not grievously understaffed.

Great venue.  The match… was… kind of soul-crushing.  I think that skater for skater there was probably a small skills gap between the Canberra and Melbourne teams, but not a fatal one, with the Canberra stars like Bambi von Smash’er and Short Stop able to make up for it.  The trouble was, it wasn’t skater on skater, it was team on team, and as a team the VRDL had it their way right from the first jam.  They worked together beautifully: their pack could close in on a Roller and box her in, letting them control where she was on the track, steering her around or bringing her to a literal standstill; they were brilliant at “waterfalling”, tag-teaming an opponent with successive blocks from their whole pack to send them right off the track, and they used a tactic I’ve not seen before which according to the commentators was called “trapping the goat”.  A rule of Derby is that the pack skaters have to be in close formation, not strung out on the track, and if they get too far out of squad coherency (hi, 40K players!) they have to slow down and re-form.  So what the other team does is box one of them in so the rest can’t continue around the track, and simply sit there, keeping the other team below strength and paralysed, while their jammer whips around the track racking up lap after lap’s worth of points.

That brings up an interesting development I saw tonight that I’ve never seen in any of the CRDL matches: the visitors played a far slower game than the locals.  If their jammer was in the lead (which she almost always was, I swear a couple of them could fucking teleport) then they’d slow the whole pack down to almost walking pace, and once or twice just halting across the track with a hapless Roller trapped somewhere in between them.  When the skaters are in motion they’re less stable and it’s easier for someone to block and shove their way through a pack because they’ve got some momentum to play with, but from a standstill?  Wasn’t happening.  It was a tactic that the Rollers didn’t seem to have any answer for: jams in the Canberra league run at speed and this was a whole different game.  (I did notice that when the VRDL didn’t get lead jammer and put on the speed to try and deny the Rollers points, the game got much more even as the Rollers’ familiarity with a high-speed game came back into play.)

I don’t doubt that the CRDL skaters will have taken a lot of notes from tonight, since apart from anything else the first of the local teams to master the tactics that the VRDL used tonight will have an edge over the others when the local season kicks off in April.  The Canberra league has some amazingly talented skaters and great fighting spirit – if they can focus that through the disciplined teamwork and tactical nous that the VRDL showed tonight then hopefully we can hand them back a defeat next time they cross the Vice City Rollers’ path.

“One of these days these skates are gonna roll right over you” sang the band tonight.  Let’s roll.

Addendum: Looking back over that post it sounds kind of downbeat and nasty, and I’ll admit I wasn’t in the best mood coming out of AIS tonight.  But I should add that my hands are sore and my throat moreso from cheering and applauding, for the visitors as well as the home team, and despite the one-sided scoreboard nearly every jam got roars of approval from the crowd and loud oohs at the blocks and tumbles.   Wouldn’t have missed it.  Roller Derby rules.

Addendum 2: Wow, look at you all.  Hello to everyone who folled the link here from the CRDL page and Twitter, I’m flattered that my slightly brainfrazzled thoughts from Saturday night were worth passing around.  I’ve now corrected the tagging for my earlier Derby bout reports so clicking the CRDL tag on this one should show you them, if that appeals to you.  I see the dates for the 2011 CRDL season are up now, and I’ll get to and write up as many bouts as I can.  Stay tuned.

Addendum 3: Aaaand this post has given this blog its official busiest day ever, outdoing Angron and the Battle of Mount Ainslie.  Wow.