The top of the table clash between the Melbourne Flames and the Brisbane Breakers was everything fans expected it to be, and more.
An intense and closely fought game with both teams managing to establish leads against their opponents at one point or another during the game; it was a true display of top quality Ultimate.
The Melbourne Flames managed to come back from an early deficit and deny the Brisbane Breakers a late comeback effort to emerge victorious with a score of 13-11.
In her pre-game interview, Flames coach, Anna Rogacki pointed out the threat offered by the Breakers’ height and throwers. “I think Brisbane have quite a tall team so we’ll look to match that way. They also have big impact throwers, so we would look to mitigate that as much as possible,” she said.
However, she had faith and confidence that her team could adapt and overcome the challenge offered by the Breakers. “One of the strengths of our team is our depth. So across the board I feel really comfortable that we can throw anything at it and switch regardless of gender, regardless of position. I feel really comfortable that our team can match pressure wise on that,” she said.
When asked what the team’s plan was going into the game, she said that the team’s focus was on their own performance and consistency. “Defensively our conversion rate needs to be 100%, for sure. Offensively for us, taking good care of our shots, rewarding open cuts. Playing aggressive, sure, but making sure that we’ve got good separation, not throwing to contests,” she said.
“I think if any team, we or they, can’t execute a high completion rate, there would be punishment for that. I think this will be an elite level game where any offensive turnovers will be punished,” she added.
Flames player Lochlan Wise gave us an insight on what the aims and tactics were going into the game.
“Priority was to maintain focus and quickly transitioning into defense when necessary. The Breakers are a strong team with an excellent capacity for long throws. The defensive line recognized their potential for quick scoring and prioritized slowing the game down,” he said
He added, “To successfully slow the game down, we placed less emphasis on the individual match-ups and more on maintaining a spare player to defend long throws.”
The Flames were without Rosa Wang and Brendan Ashcroft who sat out for this game, but they saw the return of Lochlan Wise and his signature knee raise and stamp pulls, as well as Georgia Egan-Griffiths.
The Flames started on offense downwind and everything seemed perfectly fine for the first four points as both teams had an equal share of points. Brisbane’s John McNaughton was giving early warnings of what he was capable of, assisting their first goal with a cross field hammer and the second with a cross field scoober.
This was when everything, including the disc, went south for both teams. Both teams can be credited with having a tight defense, forcing their opponents to look for the long shots. The combination of this intense defense and the windy conditions led to some impressive blocks and throwaways on both sides.
The Breakers appeared to be more confident with dealing with the wind and the tight defense as they managed to score two breakpoints in a row, leading the game at 4-2.
This early deficit stoked the fire of the Melbourne Flames as they stepped up their game immediately and reverted back to the tactic which have served them so well in previous games: short passes, quick disc movement, patient offensive build up and avoiding risky shots.
The Flames quickly clawed themselves back into the game, scoring four points in a row amidst some impressive layout blocks, occasional long shots, turnovers and patient short passing to establish a 6-4 lead.
The Flames went on to take half 7-5. While the scoreboard showed a two point lead for the Flames, both teams ended the first half on quite an equal note statistically.
Melbourne had a 89% pass completion with 93 completed passes while Brisbane had 88% with 90 completed passes. Both teams had 6 blocks and 1 drop each and the Flames had 10 throwaways while the Breakers had 11.
Wise said that the message at half time was just for the team to stick to their matches, refocus on the basics and emphasize on effectiveness.
He said, “Our game plan was to slow the opposition down. They definitely got off to a quick start which made it difficult but the Flames have enough experience to just ride out momentum swings with hard work and minor adjustments.”
The Flames came out for the second half raring to go. No one exemplified their burning desire on that point more than Tom ‘The Difference’ Deller as he racked up 3 amazing blocks on that point. While it unfortunately did not lead to the Flames scoring, it did pave the way for more intense Ultimate for the rest of the half. Deller went on to achieve a total of 5 blocks in the game, the most on the Melbourne team.
John McNaughton continued to bother the Flames when the Breakers were on offense, racking up assist after assist and even a goal. On the other side, Sophie Taylor and Kat Smith took turns harassing Seb Barr on defense, racking up blocks on him as well as limiting his time on the disc.
The Breakers had quite a few tricks up their sleeves when it came to defense, executing a mixture of match defense, gender mismatches and zone defense throughout the game.
Melbourne Flames’ Mikhaila Dignam was quick to pour praise on the Breakers and said that the Flames had to adapt to their different defensive plans. “I have absolutely loved watching the Breakers throughout the AUL because of their innovative defensive style. The O line definitely had to think and take simple options when first presented with new defences to assess where the gaps were and then attack from there,” she said.
She added, “I loved it when they put men on Cat Phillips, she’s such a beast and it was an incredible contest. Taylor absolutely aced the match-up on Barr and was able to contain the space he could effectively operate within as one of our key throwers, forcing him downfield proved very effective.”
The rest of the second half was as close as it could be with both team trading points, going in for blocks and playing their best game of Ultimate. The Flames managed to hold out the lead and eventually see out the game.
Mark Isherwood was the standout player of the game as he chalked up the stats on all departments, finishing the game with 2 blocks, 4 goals and 5 assists.
Dignam credited their eventual victory to the Flames’ effective play style and disciplined offense. “When we play short ball and move the disc quickly, we are unstoppable and are playing to our athletic strengths,” she said.
She added, “I think in the end we were more disciplined with our shot selection and chose higher percentage options rather than 50/50 hucks compared to the Breakers, which gave us the edge in the end.”
The Melbourne Flames face the Perth Power next in their final pool game as they hope to finish with a perfect record. The Perth team will be coming off their first win as they comfortably saw off the Adelaide Dragons in their last round match.
Will the Flames blaze through the league and leave a fiery trail behind them? Or will Perth power through and come up with a huge upset? Find out on 5th October, 7:00pm.
Written by: Alex Tsui
Photography: Mark Milne