The Schools’ Head of the River 2015 – First Eights

The pinnacle of the School rowing head season is upon us, when any junior crew looking to make a serious statement about where they stand in the country decends upon the Tideway for a day of ferocious competition. I find the first eight category in particular quite interesting to watch year on year, because where the championship schools, on a whole, consistently put out high calibre crews, the first eights seem far more changeable. Whether or not I agree with the first/champ system is another matter. Nonetheless, on with the preview.

Canford School

Last year’s victors, these boys seem to have had a pretty inconsistent season so far. Starting off with wins in both the JSch 2- and 2x at the Hampton SBH, I think there is little doubt that Canford’s Coupe representatives from last year, Aryan Sheikhalian and Jonny Naylor, haven’t lost their touch. This would seem promising, however the next time they navigated the same course, this time in an eight at the Big Head, they finished 15th in J18 1st VIII’s. This was then followed by results of 14th and 16th at Quintin, and the excuse might be made that they were in matched eights, but so were Hampton, and they were still around twenty seconds behind them. This wouldn’t exactly bode well for them. Having said that though, they more recently finished 3rd at the Reading Uni Head in the J18 eight category, and the 5th junior crew overall, behind Radley, two Hampton crews and Latymer. Will they win on Monday? Probably not. But looking at their best form so far, they won’t be too far off the money.

Pangbourne College

Two seconds was all that separated the top two crews last year, and Pangbourne were the ones who just lost out, although they got their revenge later in the season by soundly beating Canford at Nat Schools. Like Canford, their top pair from last year of Luke Towers and Felix Lammers are back and seem to be having a pretty good time. Winning the Open 4- category in a time that beat all of the present J18 quads, and the Open 4x- category by over thirty seconds, at the Wycliffe Head would suggest that they don’t plan on fading away after their emphatic win in the coxless four at Nat Schools last year. I suppose it’s all well and good having a great four, but sometimes that comes at the price of having not so good an eight. Pangbourne seem to have sidestepped this; the time they laid down at Reading was only about fifteen seconds slower than that of Radley’s, and their time set in Brugge was only nineteen behind Hampton. While they aren’t my favourites to win the Schools’ Head, they are certainly one to watch in the latter part of the season.

Latymer Upper School

I would like to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to everyone at Latymer after the tragic loss of Michael Hill. Thankfully for these boys however, this awful accident seems to have had little to no effect on their ability to compete. With a win at the Quintin and Hammersmith Heads, and narrow seconds to an exceptionally strong Westminster crew at Hampton Head, and by only fifteen seconds to Radley at Reading, all in J18 8+ categories, these guys seem to be going from strength to strength. Their top pair of Tom Yates and Ryan Parkinson finished a very admirable 10th at Feb Trials, with another pair of   Tom Phelps and Oscar Holmes coming in 37th. As it stands I can’t see anyone challenging them on the Tideway.

Monmouth School

Of the usual suspects in the 1st 8+ scene, Monmouth for me have performed the least well so far. They were beaten by both Chester and Shrewsbury’s matched eights at Wycliffe, and then by almost a minute by Radley at the Head of the Trent. On top of this, their one GB trialist came last at Feb Trials, by a staggaring gap of almost twenty seconds. However,  I won’t lose faith in them completely just yet, Monmouth seems to be quite good at making something decent out of not much raw material, but I can’t see them making it to the front of the pack for this particular event.

Reading Blue Coat School 

Consistency seems to be the word with these guys. Their results have been neither appalling nor fantastic thus far; third at Quintin and seventh at Hampton in J18 eights, and 4th in IM3 eights at Reading. They do have a pair in the GB system, in the form of Mathew Kemp and Gavin Brackley, but they placed only 43rd out of the 50 pairs that raced in Boston in February. It seems like wherever they go, Latymer or Canford are always there to just pip them to the post, and I believe that is what is going to happen on Monday as well. I would expect a nice, just above average result from this crew.

Bedford Modern School

For their larger than average number of guys in the GB system, BMS don’t seem to me to be a prevalent as they should be. With Kieran Smith and Jake Wilson placing 18th, and William White and Oliver Clarke finished 25th at Feb Trials, there is certainly potential for a fast eight. However, with their only result at a large event so far, that I can find, being a ninth out of nineteen at Hampton in the J18 1st VIII category, there remains a lot to be desired. Perhaps over the course of the season they might pick up some speed, but for now I can’t see them impressing hugely.

Sir William Borlase GS

I suppose the big question for Borlase coming in to this season mirrored that of Westminster: to prioritise the quad or the eight. While Westminster have gone with the eight, in impressive style, Borlase seem to have decided that they couldn’t decide and have done both. With the quad continuing where they left off from last season, the eight has had some varied results: earlier this year they placed 6th out of nineteen at Hampton, about thirteen seconds behind Latymer and just in front of Reading Blue Coat, a decent result for a crew made up predominately of J17s. However, more recently, at Reading, they came in just over twenty seconds behind Latymer, with both Reading and Kingston Grammar in front as well. I’m honestly not sure how they will fare on Monday. If they perform to their best they might find themselves in a very good position, but if not then they have a long way to fall.

Bedford School

Not usually the club that immediately springs to mind when someone mentions 1st VIIIs, Bedford have done pretty well for themselves so far this season. They placed second at both the Hammersmith Head, which was out of a field of ten, and the Peterborough Head of the Nene, although that one was only out of four. With three guys going through GB trials, there is some potential there, with Simon Beal placing 33rd with a guy from King’s Canterbury, and James Winder and Jared Sheridan coming in 39th in Boston. I don’t see this crew moving mountains, but I also don’t think they are there to just make up the numbers.

London Oratory School

To my knowledge, London Oratory are the first 1st VIII school to jump on board the Hudson USP wagon. At the beginning of the season when I first caught wind of their new purchase, to my shame I tutted to myself, and mumbled something about wasting money. However, I have been proved wrong, as they haven’t done too badly at all. 4th at the Quintin Head, only two seconds behind Reading Blue Coat, and 4th again at the Hammersmith Head, only about six seconds off Bedford, and about twenty seconds from Latymer. I have have quite high hopes for these guys, although I think it won’t click for them until later in the season.

Kingston GS

Kingston weren’t originally a club I was going to look at in much detail, but having seen a couple of their results I have changed my mind. Firstly, at Hampton, they finished ninth, ahead of BMS and Canford, both usually strong schools. Then, at Reading, they came in only twenty seconds off Latymer, this time ahead of Borlase. They have shown some turns of speed and, although not one of the usual suspects in the world of 1st VIIIs, I’m going to say I am expecting good things of them.

As for everyone else, I would say the best of the rest would be King’s Canturbury, Winchester and maybe Cheltenham. The rest will bring up the rear.


1st. Latymer Upper

2nd. Pangbourne

3rd. Sir William Borlase

4th. Canford

5th. Kingston GS

6th. Bedford Modern

7th. Reading Blue Coat

8th. Bedford

9th. London Oratory

10th. Monmouth

11th. King’s Canterbury

12th. Winchester

13th. Cheltenham

14th – 25th. If I tried to predict past here I really would be making it up.

The Rowing Jesus