Schools Head of the River 2014- Championship Eights Preview

A quick word on the Scullery. As predicted, Borlase and Marlow wrapped up the J18 and J17 quad categories respectively. The re-introduction of Cam Kerr and Sam Meijer has drawn Westminster, in their shiny, carbon rigged Empacher, to within 7 seconds of Borlase and certainly given the discussion I had with Cam on twitter a few weeks ago some validity! The most interesting point to me was that Westminster actually recorded the fastest 1800m time of the day in 5:52 to beat SWB by a second on the 2nd piece. I can’t wait to see these two line up in the summer. Northwich put in a solid performance to finish third and make amends for their Fours Head performance. The Italian boats proved to be unsettlingly quick, particularly their B crews. It makes me wonder as to whether they lined up matched crews, especially Isis Stein Gavirate whose 5th and 6th placed boats finished within a second of each other. I wonder if we’ll see these boys at Henley this year as they dislodged crews like Star and Newark from the top 10.

On to the Schools Head and probably the most significant head race of the year for juniors. A cracking entry standard this year, as ever, with 14 championship eights entered! This is the first time we get a sense as to the progress of each crew through the disrupted winter months. Crews such as Hampton, who boat along the Molesey stretch of the Thames, have suffered from a serious lack of water-time and this will undoubtedly hinder their speed. The preview…

St Pauls

We all knew these boys would be fast this year. They’ve retained much of their 4th placed CH8+ [NSR] crew from last year and this is looking like it might well be the fastest St Pauls crew ever. I can trace a lot of these boys right back to their roots. I remember Arthur Doyle from his silver medal In J151x at Brit Champs and Stijn De Graaf from a particularly strong double at J16 level which notched up some good results at Hampton SBH. It is great to see St Pauls finally taking on the mantle and achieving at the highest level, with some great oarsmen involved. They finished up 4th overall at the Hammersmith Head and were the fastest junior crew by some 12 seconds. I can’t see anyone catching them before SHORR. They had a startlingly fast four at HOR4 which won the Jun 4+ category and also had the fastest pair at Feb GB Trials. Bobby Thatcher has really done a great job moulding these boys into the fast crew they are now and I’ll be interested to see if they can do the historic triple this year. Early doors obviously but their performances at Wallingford, Quintin and Hammersmith show a crew in form.

Eton College

Over the 6k distance at the Head of the Trent, these boys were expected to take the victory in the absence of St Pauls. However they were beaten by an impressive Kings Chester crew. Can these guys turn that around? They look like a strong crew on paper, with the likes of Charlie Thurston and Alex Barakat onboard. Eton had a superb J16 VIII last year and it looks as if Henshilwood has integrated parts of that crew into his new VIII. Whenever Henshilwood is mentioned, one thinks of Constantine Louloudis and those unstoppable junior VIII’s of 2009 and 2010. It leaves the imagination to speculate upon what he can produce this year and in the coming years. He is certainly one of the most prolific coaches of his generation and this Eton crew have the weight of expectation on their shoulders. Can they beat St Pauls? Not just yet, no. St Pauls look superb at the moment and row on the tideway every day whereas Eton have a 2k stretch at Dorney Lake. The summer season may well be a different story as Henshilwood crews are often built with a combination of raw power, aerobic fitness and exceptional technique. Their matched VIII’s at Wallingford Head of the River tells its own story. Not only did the first crew, containing Francois Gouws, win the junior category but the second crew finished in 2nd place and a mere 3 seconds behind. Their second VIII should be very quick. Top 3 for these boys.

Kings School Chester

I was struggling as to my next prediction but I’m going to follow a gut instinct and go with this crew. A real outsider, I had no idea that they were moving fast until the Head of the Trent where they beat Eton College by 1 second. Their IM1 4- was searingly quick, finishing third in the division and beating the winner of the J184x event! They performed well at Runcorn Head, boating two VIII’s and recording division wins for each. These lads look remarkably good but it involves a certain amount of investigation as to where their speed has come from! They had a very good J16 4+ which won gold at NSR last year while their first VIII was competent in CH8+. Nonetheless, the coaches at KCH have obviously been working the boys hard amid all the disruption as their rowing newsletter says that their first race since Christmas was Trent! I can see these boys, with the momentum they now have, finishing in the top 5. Keep an eye on this crew as I feel it could develop into a major player as the season progresses.


Ever dependable and a real fighter in the upper echelons of junior rowing over the last few years. Their Henley final in 2012 was a recent peak and they went through a relatively quiet phase last year but they are back with a vengeance this year. Their top four, with Charles Elwes and Robbie Wendin onboard, finished second at the HOR4 and they’ve put in some good performances in the VIII through the winter. They won J18 8+ at Hammersmith and finished 12 seconds behind St Pauls and also won J18 8+ at Trent although they finished twenty second behind KCH and Eton. I think these boys won’t challenge crews like ST Pauls and Eton but will certainly be pushing onto Latymer, who they start behind. Radley traditionally get faster as the year goes on so don’t be surprised to see an underwhelming performance at SHORR followed by a blockbuster of a summer.


An odd choice you may think but let me explain my logic. Shrewsbury were less than a second behind Kings School Chester at Runcorn Head and Eton were also beaten by KCH…. by 1 second. Follow? Shrewsbury have been very quiet recently although they’ve been busy in the equipment department. They’ve recently taken delivery of a wonderful new Empacher VIII with carbon riggers. Athol Hundermark was said to be ‘very excited’ on Shrewsbury’s website! It is a very similar model to the one Hundermark had at Abingdon and we’ll wait and see as to whether or not he can produce the same results! Shrewsbury have also suffered from a lack of water time but the gym work has paid off as they look sharp coming into SHORR. They haven’t raced much but have visited Lake Vyrnwy to train and gain. It really is an exciting season and, although St Pauls are favourites, the chasing pack are tightly bunched and growing in speed!

St Edwards

The St Edwards crew from last year was one of my absolute favourites as they raced fantastically through the summer season, culminating in a Henley final against Abingdon. Can they scale these lofty heights again this year? I have to say that it is unlikely. They’ve lost Callum Jones and Titus Morley, two of their top oarsmen. I’m not sure as to how many returners they have from the VIII last year but Ollie Knight, Sam Gillingham and Albert Mitchell are certainly still around to have another crack. Jonny Singfield is a top quality coach but I don’t think these boys will be making a Henley final this weekend. I’d love them to prove me wrong and I still do think they’ll be challenging all the way. Their Oxford boathouse has most likely been hit by the floods so their speed will come with water-time. They had a good result at Hammersmith Head, winning the IM3 division by 12 seconds over Latymer’s second VIII and finishing four seconds behind Radley who won J18 8+. Will be interested to see if they can close that gap on Radley at SHORR.

Latymer Upper School

Under the new stewardship of Hugo Gulliver, ex coach of that superb Latymer WJ184x that won at Henley last year, these boys have been going well. Their first VIII came second in J18 8+ at Hammersmith behind Radley but won at Quintin in the same event. These boys raced at CH 8+ level last year but didn’t make the final and finished fourth in a fiercely contested repecharge. Can they produce at SHORR? The signs are good and their results at Quintin were the strongest set of results from the Latymer Senior Boys Rowing squad in five years, boding well for the Schools’ Head Of The River. My call, however, would be to their strength in depth. Their second VIII has been going extremely quick so watch out for these boys. A top 10 finish should be easily achievable for these boys and it will be interesting to see whether they can push on from there.

Kings College School Wimbledon

These boys, having won the Child Beale at NSR in 2012 and 1st VIII’s at SHORR 2013, stepped up to the plate last year to race CH8+ at NSR. They did pretty well, making the final and finishing fifth. They had some good results at the HOR4 including a fifth placed crew in Jun 4X. They finished third in J18 8+ at Hammersmith, 7 seconds behind winners Radley. However, their speed has increased as they were only 2 seconds behind Latymer compared to 10 seconds at Quintin Head in January. Charles Buchanan and James Clarke, two returners from the VIII last year, finished 12th at Feb GB Trials which is a good result for these boys. A strong crew and I think they should be looking for a top 8 finish, with an eye for higher.

Hampton School

Having lost four junior internationals to the abyss of university and adult life, this is always going to be a tough season for Hampton. Their coach, Neil Double, will be hard pushed to produce an VIII capable of producing the form Hampton have shown over the last few years. They are the current holders of the CH8+ title at SHORR but it would take a miracle for them to retain it. Two VIII’s from Hampton raced at Quintin Head and came 7th in IM2 and 3rd in IM3. This leads me to think that they were probably matched crews. However, they were 27 seconds behind St Pauls and a second behind Latymer’s second VIII. This does not bode well, despite the fact that they had two pairs inside the top 10 at Feb GB Trials. Hampton have always been small boats specialists [CH 4- gold at NSR, J18 2- at Pairs Head etc. last year] and so this doesn’t surprise me. I think these boys will be hard pushed to finish inside the top 5.

Abingdon School

A poor start to the season for these boys and, looking at the early signs, this season will most likely be the beginning of the end of their reign over top schoolboy eights. They had a sensational season last year, bouncing back from a 2nd place at SHORR to go pretty much undefeated through the regatta season. They had a crew in IM1 VIII’s at Hammersmith, which finished 7th out of 8 and 28 seconds behind front runners St Pauls. Dave Currie has lost some superb oarsmen and they don’t have a particularly outstanding J16 contingent and so I can’t see them challenging this year.

Tideway Scullers School

I’m not sure who is in this crew but TSS have a strong junior squad that have achieved some decent results over the last few years. They had their J164x represent GB at the GB vs France match although I’m led to believe that one of these boys has moved to row at Tiffin. It is obvious that TSS have been prioritising sweep at this stage as they had 5 athletes at GB trials in pairs, including a particularly fast composite with Emanuel School which finished third. This is the first we’ve seen from these boys in this discipline and it might well come as a shock to them. CH8+ is no playground and they may find themselves out of the running for a top 5 spot. However, if they chose to stick with it, I can see them gaining good speed as the year progresses.

That’s all the major players. Apologies for the huge preview, I wanted to be as comprehensive as possible. It should be a cracking event with real quality in all departments. Can St Pauls meet the weight of expectation? Can Eton provide an upset and give Alex Henshilwood an ideal start to the summer season? Are Kings School Chester dark horses? Feel free to comment and have your say below!

Good luck to all competitors!

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