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“This seat’s taken, sorry.” “No, someone’s sitting there.” “Sorry, I’m waiting for some people, this is their spot.” “Hi, no, that space is taken.” “Excuse me, no, all these spaces are for my friends.” “No, sorry, I’m holding this spot for some people.”

I have got to see about getting to these bouts earlier.

But you’re not interested in my trials and tribulations of trying to get a seat in the bleachers, are you, you callous bunch? You just want the bout report, right?  So my search engine and link stats seem to be telling me, anyway. Right then.

So we’re getting into the pointy end of the CRDL’s season for the year – this bout, the commentators told us, would determine each team’s placing in the grand final bout at the end of October. Both teams were coming off a loss – the Red-Bellied Blackhearts were downed by the Black’n’Blue Belles in their last bout, and the Surly Griffins (who are also “Sulry” according to the bout season poster) lost to the Brindabelters. Both teams were looking to bounce back strong to land a place at the top of the finals card in the first/second place bout. In fact the Blackhearts had announced on Facebook beforehand that they were up for a game of “Biff a Griff”, but on the night the Griffins came along to dish out some respectable biff of their own.

I’m here to tell you that green and white pack was tough. The brawls saw a whole series of pileups, often with the teams barely out of the starting boxes and around the first short stretch, plenty of one-on-one hits that drew exclamations and applause from the crowd, and some brawls that at one point sent not just the skaters but one of the refs over the suicide line and into the crowd. (That one made it onto YouTube, I have now found.) I commented in my post on the bout against the Queensland reps that Short Stop took a double-team hit that made her skates leave the ground, but in the second half of this bout Blackheart captain Roulette Rouge took a hit from one Griffin coming down the nearside straight that for a moment had her whole body parallel with the floor and about a metre in the air. The Griffs’ jamming strategy was similarly aggressive: their most high-profile Jammer for the evening was Aunty Aggro, who followed up her bruising form against the Sun State team with a straightforward “outta my way or down you go” approach to her job. Also in my memory as jamming for the Griffins (didn’t take a notebook) was Rainbow Spite, veterans Doctor Hell and AmyKazee, and newcomer Ginger Nutcase who has plenty of speed and attitude and forced the Blackhearts’ best Jammers to push to the top of their form.

(Something that struck me, though, even before half time came along: very few fouls and suspensions. There rarely seemed to be more than one skater in the Sin Bin. Which meant that the teams were being tough and aggressive, but precise and focused along with it, certainly in contrast to some of the much wilder matches earlier in the year.)

The Griffins started off ahead from the first couple of jams, then the lead oscillated briefly before it settled with the Blackhearts and started to lengthen. I suck at remembering scores and they don’t seem to be online for this match, but my recollection is that the Blackhearts were at least twenty points ahead by half time and accelerating away. The Griffs brought the biff and gave it some good solid packwork but the Blackheart pack was at least as good and as organised, if not quite so showily aggressive, and the Blackhearts had a good roster of star Jammers that the Griffins didn’t seem to have an answer for. Bambi von Smash’er was back on form tonight with an excellent mix of aggression and technique, and showed herself an excellent pack player and Pivot as well as Jammer. Several times on the night I saw her form the centre of a strong Blackheart wall, or be in exactly the right spot to drag her Jammer out of the pack behind her and boost her speed with a well-timed whip.

For me the standout Jammers were Fauna Cat and relative newcomer Terror Bonesaparte, two capable Jammers who seemed to have quite similar skating styles using acceleration, manoeuvre and balance. I was sitting at the third corner which was a great spot to see the different jamming tactics, since by the time they were passing in front of me the Jammers were well into the pack or just breaking out of it, and using all their best moves to pull ahead. Fauna Cat in particular seems able to slip through the tiniest gap in an opposing line – every time the Griffs pack let her get a foot or a shoulder ahead of them then it was only a matter of time.

Both she and Terror also made good use of a particular trick that the Griffins struggled to deal with, pouring on the speed on the straight and racing the Griffin blockers ahead while the rest of the Blackhearts stayed back in a tight pack. The pack in Derby is the stretch of track (I think twenty feet) with the most non-Jamming skaters in it, designated by signals from the refs, so if a skater gets outside that area she can’t engage with other skaters ‘til she’s back in. Fauna Cat and Bonesaparte both used this against the enemy blockers. Rather than trying to dodge through the frontmost Griffins and then pull away they used their excellent acceleration to start racing as soon as they were on the long straight, forcing the lead Griffins to try and pour on the speed to match them while the rest of the Blackhearts hung back to keep a tight pack. Generally the Griffs only had time for one really good block before they were out of coherency distance and had to disengage, and the fact that they were fighting to build up speed at the same time took a lot of the oomph out of the block. Both of these Jammers are skilled skaters and very well centred, and several times I saw them shrug off a block while the offending Griffin bounced off and ended up crashing to the track.

Yeah, I know, I'm recycling my photos.

Like I said, I didn’t take a notebook so I can’t quote scores in detail, but the Blackhearts had opened up a commanding lead by the end of the first half – memory tells me about thirty points or so. (Hah, yes, a check of the Twitter feed says 74-47.) In the second half the lead grew a little, shrank a little, but mostly grew a little (or a lot, in the case of one massive multiple-lap score-a-thon by Speedin’ Segal). The commentators kept reminding us that even a big lead in Roller Derby can be reversed in a couple of jams, and that anything could still happen… but it didn’t happen for the Griffins on Saturday, and the Blackhearts took the bout 144-87. Commiserations Griffins, congratulations Blackhearts, and on to the finals!

A few addenda are in order.

First of all, the decision to staff the commentators’ table with Derby skaters not actually skating that night was an excellent idea. The team on the microphones on the weekend was Peachy Keen, The Cleaver and Intensive Claire, who had confidence and wit and an insider’s knowledge of what was going on on the track that complemented the action, rather than detracting from it.

The halftime entertainment also deserves a mention: the Limitless Dance Crew, a local ensemble of street dancers who are raising funds to travel to the US. These guys apparently do a lot of busking with their dance, and they had that knack of quickly engaging with an audience that a busker needs. They were athletic, creative and often very funny, theatrical as well as just technically good. Great fun to watch, and by the cheers and clapping all through the set the rest of the crowd agreed with me.

The biggest one for last: if you didn’t know already four CRDL skaters have made it onto Team Australia, the Australian representative side that will head to the Blood and Thunder Roller Derby World Cup 2011! Massive congratulations to Bambi von Smash’er of the Blackhearts, Amykazeee of the Griffins, and King Cam and the mighty Short Stop of the the Black’n’Blue Belles.

And consider, folks: our skaters won’t be skating at their best if they’ve used up all their energy on beating up innocent Canadian passersby for the plane fare home. If you want to help Team Australia’s travel costs and avoid possible international incidents, consider dropping them a line at CRDLfundraising@gmail.com and chipping in.

The next CRDL bout is the Brindabelters vs the Black’n’Blue Belles on the 24th of next month, although tickets aren’t on sale yet. In the meantime I have a fiction deadline to chase down and properly nobble. In amongst it all somewhere I’m hoping to do a reading-related post or two – been way too long since one of those.

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