These Welsh skaters are no strangers to hard hitting, full contact sport
Wales: the land of valleys, castles and singing. And rugby.
Men in short shorts running hell for leather at each other across muddy pitches in the depths of winter, rucking and mauling their way to victory and a pint of Brains. It’s a sport which translates rather well to roller derby then and the Welsh skaters have already established a reputation for their hard hitting game.
“It seems you can’t be raised in Wales without playing rugby,” laughs Berserker, of Southern Discomfort. “These boys are big and fearless, so derby is a pretty soft sport in the grand scheme of things. Whilst a lot of teams work on riling and toughening up ‘normal’ people for derby we’re the opposite, having to put leashes on some of these animals.”
Ben Twilly is one of those former rugby players who came to derby via roller hockey. He was surprised by the response to the team’s try outs, which were held last summer, given the country’s small derby community. “The [national team] committee was afraid of not having enough skaters of Welsh descent to field a team but luckily, as the word got out that there were tryouts, skaters flooded in from everywhere.”
Wales now have twenty skaters who will hop across the border to Birmingham, with many drawn from the South Wales Silures (SWS), the only established men’s league in the country. Ieuan Man (pronounced YIGH-un) plays with the Silures and he believes his league’s experiences are integral to the national team.
“The strong core of Silures players in the Welsh squad means we’ve had a lot of time on track together. Even outside of SWS though, a lot of the players aren’t strangers to us, with some having trained with us during excursions back to Wales to see family etc For those that we haven’t played with on track, we’ve played against, which is also valuable.”
Berserker is one of those to have come up against the Silures on track. “They’re a young team but every time I play against them they’re significantly better. They have a reputation for being the most aggressive and physical team in Europe, which is a style of play I much admire and it has left me nursing my ribs many a time.”
Team Wales can also call on the knowledge and experience of the Tiger Bay Brawlers, full WFTDA members and one of Europe’s leading women’s teams. The boys often train with the Brawlers and can count on their captain, Billie Pistol, as their line-up manager, as well as their bench coach and SWS captain, Neil Helardo.
“Billie has worked extensively with SWS as line-up manager and has proven herself to be a credit to the team,” says Ieuan. “She has a wealth of knowledge and cool headed nature and we’re all looking forward to having her work with the national team. Neil has done an outstanding job of bench managing Tiger Bay and as such we’re all more than happy to have him on board Team Wales.”
The skaters and the bench staff had their first experience of a full international bout in mid-January when they played neighbours, Team England, at the same Futsal venue that will host MRDWC.
“It was a tough game, very physical,” recalls Ben of the game, which England won 346 – 76. “We played strongly but lacked the wall structures and experience that England had, so we’re going to work on it for March. To play one of the most highly tipped teams to win the MRDWC has been a great introduction to International derby.”
“If England was a test then the USA will be an almighty match up that I’m ecstatic about,” says Ben. It will be one hell of a welcome to the first ever men’s roller derby world cup, but given their tough guy rugby heritage, maybe Team Wales will come out and surprise a few of the Americans? Roll on Friday 14 March to find out!
Who will the Welsh be watching at MRDWC?
All the big names from the MRDA leagues. I saw Quadzilla (USA) play in the Euros so looking forward to seeing all the boys from the likes of the St Louis Gatekeepers, NYSE and Puget Sound.
USA as the skill level will be blinding and with such a challenge comes the opportunity for leaps in personal progress. Japan because no one really knows how they’re going to handle this ruleset or slow derby. Sutton Impact (Eng) because I rarely get to play against him and from the moment I started he’s been the guy I’ve respected and admired the most.
I have huge respect and am a massive fan of a lot of the guys on Team USA, particularly people like John Wyatt, Jonathan R and Seahorses Forever, so getting to play against those guys will be awesome. The guys from Japan also seem like an amazing bunch and I am massively looking forward to meeting them all.
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Post by Beat Monkey / @jamiepotter