Oarsport Junior Sculling Head- J184x Preview

I really cannot believe we’re here again. It seems like just yesterday that we were all travelling down to Dorney to thrash out a few masochistic kilometres on that dreadful, cold, wet day. The farce surrounding last years results [3 days to publish the J164x] has led to some major changes for the 2014 event. All crews will now race over the distance of 3600m [2 legs of 1800m]. There is an extensive document detailing exactly how the timing will be recorded etc while the competitor information is also a pretty hefty read for a lane race. Nonetheless, last year hasn’t detracted from entry numbers and, with the postponement of the Schools Head of the River, a lot of clubs will be eyeing this event with increased enthusiasm…

The J184x. One of my all-time favourites on the junior rowing circuit and one which provides the most savage racing. A huge 38 boat entry to this category with the added spice of four Italian crews from two separate clubs. Here, I’ll detail the major players in a similar fashion to my HOR4 preview [Click the link for info- http://juniorrowing.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/fullers-fours-head-of-the-river-2013-junior-boys-quads-preview/ ]. To the preview…

Sir William Borlase

The mighty Borlase. A true gladiator in the arena of junior quads over the past few years with a record that can be traced right back to 2011 with a semi-final defeat to losing finalists Walton. Two Henley finals and an outright victory later, we’re looking at arguably the strongest Sir William Borlase crew yet. Jam-packed full of international pedigree athletes, this crew bares a striking resemblance to the fantastic Marlow crew from last year. Can these boys repeat the feats of the latter? That remains to be seen and, although they are the favourites, this is by no means a one horse race. Oh no. Robin Dowell is a savvy chap though and, in the absence of water-time, he’ll have had his boys pumping the weights and breaking through red zones on the ergo. Chris Lawrie was struck by illness over February and his absence at GB Trials was keenly felt. Borlase are my favourites to take the win but the crew directly in front of them may have a little something to say about that…

Westminster

A real favourite of mine, both as a result of their technique and coach. Bill Mason is a complete genius and I’m half surprised that he isn’t coaching at international level. Year after year he turns out exceptional junior quads and this year looks no different. The tenacious combination of Cam Kerr and Sam Meijer are a superb duo in their own right but we have yet to see them race under the Westminster quad banner this season. At the HOR4, they raced in a composite with Imperial BC placing an astonishing 3rd overall. I really fancy them to take Borlase right to the wire. Westminster are historically very fast at this stage of the season and they had two solid crews last year, at least 4 of whom have returned. Can they be the ones to burst the Borlase-infused bubble?  A fascinating question and one which we will soon have an answer to. A top 3 finish for these boys.

Pangbourne

An extremely competent crew, who had a very good result at the HOR4. Bearing in mind that they are primarily a sweep-oar club, their quad was remarkably fast even if it did have Ben Maxwell in it. Starting fourth, these lads will be hot on the tail of Windsor Boys and that should prove to be a good match-up. However, my sources tell me that Pangbourne did a lot more training in sculling boats leading up to HOR4 than the OJSH. These boys will have been a lot more focused on their eight, which is competing at the Schools Head in two weeks. I still feel they will be up there though and a top 5 finish is certainly on the cards.

Northwich

Northwich were understandably a little disappointed with their result at the HOR4. They finished a credible 6th but collided with a buoy and had their stroke-man, Finnian Lawton, tear an intercostal muscle.  A pretty awful cataclysm of events to unfold over the space of 20 minutes and these boys will be out for revenge. They are, on paper, a very good crew especially following the addition of Alex Bain from Royal Chester. They raced well last year, pre-qualifying for Henley and winning a silver medal at the British Championships in July. However, their starting place does bemuse me a little. They are the 19th boat out while weaker crews enjoy the presence of Borlase, Pangbourne, Star around them. No disrespect to Great Marlow School and Newark but they are not quite in the same league as crews higher up the draw. I’m going to say top 5 for these boys.

Leander Club

I have to admit, I think these boys did pretty well at the HOR4. Having lost their two strongest oarsmen, they held their own against some of the best crews in the country and they have still have some good quality left. Harry Leask is their strongest returner and he’ll be instrumental to their success. He has beaten Chris Lawrie and Ben Maxwell this season and looks to be a prominent sculler. Obviously, Leander have suffered from the floods and will not have had much water time. This may affect their development as many of their athletes are relatively new to the sport and will have needed time on the water to hone their skills. Nonetheless, they have two crews entered which shows a good strength in depth at J18 level and I think the A crew will finish in the top 10.

Star Club

Pretty consistent toward the top end of junior quads over the last few years. Although they haven’t made an NSR final in recent years, they’ve recorded some decent results at HRR including a pre-qualification in 2012. If my tracking is correct, this crew carries some of the J164x that finished up fourth at NSR in 2012. If so, these boys have been knocking on the door over the last few years and this year is their last chance. Their crew remains something of a mystery as they don’t really have any major names apart from Will White. Nonetheless, Bedford has not been affected by the floods as badly as many areas of the country and this showed at the Head of the Trent where Star overtook Windsor Boys to win their category by 22 seconds. Can they challenge Borlase? Probably not but I can see them making the top 10.

Grange School Boat Club

Will this be the return of the Ozsanlav-Harris brothers? It has been very quiet from the brothers as a combination since their J152x double victory a few years back but Scott has been busy making a name for himself. He won GB Trials a few weekends back with Alex Haynes in a double which was a magnificent result considering the fact that both of them are J17. Can Grange challenge toward the top end? I certainly don’t see why not as they have done it before. It also depends on the quality of the rest of their crew but these guys, with the pedigree they have in the boat, certainly have the potential to be competent.

That’s all for the major mentions. If anyone believes I’ve missed someone, please do let me know.

Honourable mentions go to Molesey Boat Club, who are always a handful and have a good set of juniors after their J164x success last year, Canottieri di Monate and Isis Stein Gavirate, who  have come from Italy and are presumably of a pretty good standard, Emanuel School, who won at Hammersmith Head last weekend, Newark Rowing Club, who have been pretty good over the last few years and have 3 returners, Warrington, who came 4th in J184x at Brit Champs last July, RGS High Wycombe, who came second behind St Pauls at the Wallingford LDS in September, Hinksey Sculling School, who came 11th at the HOR4 and won the Thames Valley Trial Head at the beginning of February and St Neots Rowing Club, who have the impressive duo of Fergus Mitchell and Josh Davies onboard.

It looks set to be a fantastic race, with plenty of great match-ups. The WJ184x will be published later today.

Good luck to all competitors!

This photo was taken from- https://twitter.com/oarsport

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