And so it came to pass that we took ourselves to the Australian Institute of Sport last Saturday night, to watch the all-star Canberra Derby team the Vice City Rollers take on their northern counterparts the Sun State Roller Girl Fancy Pants, the second at-home interstate bout the Rollers have played this season.
The first of those at-home matches was to the Victorian Roller Derby League Allstars, who beat the VCRs by… well, a fair margin. I wrote up that bout elsewhere on this blog, and commented that skater on skater the teams seemed evenly matched, but put those skaters into teams and one was very obviously more than the sum of its parts.
There were definitely some changes in the CRDL’s tactics and teamwork after the Melbourne game, which was cool to see, and when the Rollers headed off for their away games they handed out a series of stunningly one-sided defeats to some of the other regional teams. I was ready to see them take it right to the Fancy Pants and get on track for the rematch with Victoria, whenever that should occur.
Well, to get to the point, the SSRG won the bout 181-48. The regular pattern was for the Sun Staters to shut out the Rollers from scoring while putting in a solid scoring pass or two themselves – they were adept at keeping the opposing Jammers hammered flat and/or calling the jam off completely any time the Rollers’ Jammer made it out and was coming up on the pack to try and get some points. Their general strategy was different to the Victorian one: the latter made heavy use of trapping an opposing player and slowing the jam right down to get the edge. The Sun Staters, while they often hung back at the starting whistle to let their Jammer blast through a slow-to-stationary pack, tended to conduct the jam at reasonable speed and made lethally effective use of “waterfalling”, heavy sequential blocks on an opposing skater to knock her ever further off course, off balance and off the track.
There were some moments of sheer brilliance from the CRDL skaters that got the crowd roaring (my throat was still tender on the Monday morning). Bambi von Smash’er racked up the first scores for the Rollers in the first half, and then Shaggle Frock, brought out as a surprise weapon in the second half, set the track on fire with an incredible multi-lap jam that just for a moment looked like it could have been a tipping point, before the Fancy Pants got wise to who they were up against and crunched her with their blockers in subsequent jams. Speaking of crunches, Short Stop’s reputation clearly preceded her – she spent a lot of time on the track but the SSRG laid into her with a ferocity that brought regular groans of dismay from the crowd. At one point rounding the third corner she got hammered simultaneously by two big SSRG blockers and I’m sure her feet flew something like a foot off the ground before she landed, hard. I honestly was wondering if she’d even be able to continue, and the hit was showing in her movements, but she was up and skating again and by hell she finished the jam and the bout.
The CRDL got in some hits of their own, and Aunty Aggro earned a lot of crowd applause when she decided in one late jam that she’d had enough, and bulldozed her way through the SSRG pack knocking opponents away left and right. But here’s the thing: each time I talk about something cool happening for the CRDL I find I’m talking about an individual skater’s star moment, not a fantastic team play. The SSRG worked together. When they picked a target on the opposing team, blocker or jammer, they seemed able to throw their entire pack at it at a moment’s notice. Throwing a block at another skater usually seems to put you out of position so you’ve got to adjust before you do it again, but when the SSRG used their waterfall the first blocker would hit the target Roller, then straight away the second blocker would be there to hit her again, then before she could recover the third blocker would already be closing in. I saw the Rollers helping each other out with acceleration and turns but too often they seemed to be skating as individuals, with no way to form up around their Jammer or break up the precision plays that the SSRG were pulling off.
I’m given to understand that Victoria and Queensland are at the top of the Roller Derby tree in Australia, and I can understand why after seeing their form taking on a team like the Vice City Rollers. Don’t let the downbeat talk above fool you, the Rollers are a tough, experienced team with some amazing skaters who’ve handed quite a few other regional teams their frilly, fishnetted behinds. There’ll be a day when Canberra fight their way up to the top of that tree as well, and I’ll be cheering for them when they do. And it was great to see that even copping the short end of a score like that one, the crowd was still hyped, the skaters were having a great time and the good cheer and energy were barely dented*.
Next match is at the end of the month, Red-Bellied Blackhearts vs Surly Griffins. Looking forward to it already.
*Well, okay, my good cheer was, slightly. But I’m better now.
Addendum: Hello to all the people coming here from the Queensland Derby forums! I’ve added the poster graphic and cleaned up some typos and run-on sentences (I typed the original post up rather late at night), so you’re getting the deluxe version of my blogging now.