The Schools’ Head of the River 2015- Junior 16 Championship Eights

Watching this season unfold has been immensely interesting for me, and there have certainly been some surprises over the last few months, most notably Westminster’s devastating comeback. There have also been some crews shying away from the limelight, and it’ll be interesting to see if they’ll upset some of the more established crews in the head racing circuit this year.

Now I don’t think there’s any doubt as to who is the favorite to win here. Back in January I predicted them to be in with a chance against Dulwich to take second place to Hampton at Quintin Head, and I certainly underestimated what they could do. Westminster School won J16 25 seconds ahead of the nearest crew that day, and on top of that were 3 seconds off Latymer Upper (J18 winners) over the 4.6km course. They haven’t stopped there, proceeding to come out 17 seconds faster than Winchester College at Hammersmith Head, and winning the novice category by a greater margin. With two epic eights on the water this year, Westminster are headed for a golden season.

Following what appeared to be an unsuccessful experiment of entering the bulk of the J16 eight into J18 at Hampton and Quintin Heads, Winchester College are coming back into the fold of a fully J16 crew. About two months ago I would have expected them to win this category by a margin, but Westminster have changed all of that. I still think this crew is an absolute force to be reckoned with, but unfortunately on Westminster’s home water, second place seems a likely fate for these boys.

Hampton School have been consistently high ranking this season. At Quintin Head, while not winning as I expected, they came a commendable second place, leaving Dulwich around 15 seconds behind. They won the category at Hampton Head on home water, although Westminster and Winchester were not present in the category. Third place is definitely achievable for the National bronze medal winning crew, and with Winchester possibly weakened by their stepping outside if J16 eights I would say that it’ll be a close race for second.

St Paul’s School have somewhat disappointed me this season. We usually see a dominance from J15 through to J18 during the tideway head months, but finishing 9 seconds behind Hampton in February at Hampton Head, it looks like St Paul’s are in for a relatively quiet season, and I can’t see them being faster than any of the previously mentioned crews.

The other crews worth mentioning are Dulwich College, who are currently producing very similar times to St Paul’s and it’ll be interesting to see who comes out ahead on the day. Eton College, winners of J15 CH8+ at National Schools’ Regatta last year haven’t been seen at any major events this season, so while I don’t expect them to be competing with the top three crews, I’d expect a comeback in regatta season.

I’d just like to quickly mention Shiplake as a crew to watch closely at this race. They’ve gone from strength to strength over the last 9 months, working their way up from missing a medal place in J15 1st eights to coming ahead of Dulwich at Hammersmith Head, and hosting the fastest J16 double at GB trials a few weeks ago. I’m intrigued to see how much further they’ll push the CH8+ regulars here.

Good luck to all crews racing!