The Schools’ Head of the River 2015 – Junior Coxed Fours

This year sees a large entry into the Junior Coxed Fours – 19 boats in total. Previewing an event such as the coxed four at School’s Head is difficult, as entries from the larger schools tend to be the leftover guys who haven’t quite made the 2nd 8+; this being said, with such a large and diverse category there should be some close and exciting racing for the coxed four title this year.

As there is such a large entry, I will go into detail with the top 7 schools that I think could contend (7 because these are the ‘standout’ 7 entries in the category), then offer a paragraph at the end suggesting other boats that might challenge.

At the end, I will offer a finish prediction for the top 7 crews.

Norwich School A/B

Last year, Norwich entered two matched fours into this category at School’s Head, performing well to finish 4th and 5th. While their 1st 8+ didn’t go on to have an excellent season, highlighted by a weak result at National School’s where they finished last in their semi-final, as well as a time-trial exit in the Championship Coxed Fours, this year Norwich had a decent showing at the Fours Head, where a Norwich quad finished 12th out of the Junior 4x- field of 41 boats, and at Norwich Head the club performed well to come first and second in J18 quads, as well as first in IM3 fours. At Hampton Head, Norwich performed admirably in the J18A.4+ category, finishing 4th, around 15 seconds off Hampton – not an unassailable lead over a 10 minute race. This is indicative of a pretty decent grounding in small boats, and clearly these boys are well versed in their practice. Leading their squad is Louis Lamont, who is not short of power given his impressive October 2K, and who needs to use this strength wisely when tackling the tough School’s Head conditions. It looks like there’ll be a solid headwind on Monday, so if these guys can utilize their body weight, they should perform well – however, this is of course easier said than done. These guys won’t be massively experienced in tackling the School’s Head course, where a good line is vital and composure under pressure is paramount. Whether Norwich has enough experience to maintain this level of composure remains to be seen, but their previous results and some promising results this season suggests that at least one of these boats should make the top 7 – perhaps two if the boats are matched.

Canford School

Canford are one of the larger schools entered into this event, and so they are probably worth commenting on here. However, I think Canford will struggle getting in contention with the top finishers in the category, mostly because their 1st 8+ are already struggling to find speed, even with the influence of athletes such as the Munich and Coupe representative Jonny Naylor, as well as his partner in crime, Coupe representative Aryan Sheikalian. If these guys are the bottom end of a squad that is already struggling to find depth, and is not performing very well at the top end, then I struggle to see this four performing very well. Indeed, at the recent Hampton Head, the Canford 4+ finished towards the bottom of the J18A.4+ category, coming in 9th out of the 13 entries. However, they did beat Star Club by a solid 12 seconds, and this should give them some confidence coming into this race, and suggest that they have decent speed in comparison to some of the club (as opposed to school) entries on this list. If they put in a strong and solid row, calling on past experiences of racing on the Tideway that senior Canfordians are sure by now to have, then there is no reason why a top 7 finish is out of Canford’s grasp.

Westminster School

Westminster are really developing a monopoly over the junior rowing scene at the moment. Favorites in both Championship Eights and J16 Championship Eights, I’m about to add to that by predicting them as favorites for the Junior 4+ title. Basically, given that Westminster haven’t entered a 2nd 8+ like they did at Hampton Head (where a mixture of the seniors who weren’t in the 1st VIII and guys from the 16s joined forces to win the 2nd 8+ category and post a time where they would have come 4th in the 1st 8+ category), the four entered at School’s Head is probably just the remaining seniors not rowing in the stellar 1st VIII. That means the remainder of last year’s fantastic J16 1st VIII, and the solid 1st 4+ that won a bronze at NSR. Ed Bentley, from last year’s J16 8+, will probably be the driving force in this boat. He’s a strong athlete and a fine oarsman, and if he rowed at any other school he’d likely walk onto their 1st VIII – perhaps then it is unlucky that he is part of such a quality group of athletes. His performance at GB Trials was commendable, finishing 15th on Saturday and 16th on the Sunday with his partner from the 1st VIII Jonathan Edwards – these results added to, on reflection, the fantastic trial period that Westminster had, proving their small boat ability and the sense that they can be successful in whatever boat they row in. Call me a sycophant, but Westminster are undoubtedly performing impressively at the moment, and I feel they really deserve some strong results at School’s Head; what I can be sure of, if this four contains the personnel that I think it does, is that Westminster will outclass the opposition here – if they don’t take the Junior 4+ title, then it will be quite a shock.

Star Club

This is the only entry that Star are offering to this year’s SHORR, and this would suggest that the top senior athletes are in this boat. However, I think Star will, like a lot of clubs, struggle to really mix with the schools when it comes to sweep rowing. Sculling is a different story – often clubs can produce very fast athletes in single sculls, as clubs such as Marlow and Nottingham demonstrate. However, sweep oar rowing is dominated by the schoolboys – they just have more time to hone and refine their skills in the boat, and coaches have a much deeper pool of athletes to choose from at a school. Star have also had a relatively quiet season thus far – as aforementioned, they had a pretty poor showing at Hampton Head where their four lost to the Canford four, and decided to withdraw from the Head of the Trent. One might question the logic in predicting Star for a top 7 placement, then – my instinct tells me that they have more speed to show. Star are traditionally a decent club in terms of Junior rowing – particularly on the women’s side – and I think that there is potential to be unlocked with these guys. As this is their top boat and their only entered boat, I definitely think they can get into that top 7 with a strong and mature row.

Sir William Borlase Boat Club 

Borlase aren’t famed for their sweep oar ability – they are a club that is defined by their fantastic sculling athletes; the hugely successful Chris Lawrie at the forefront, a competitor at the Youth Olympics, as well as Rufus Biggs and Fraser Russell. Last year, their J16s were for a period an exciting ‘boat to watch’ after finishing 3rd in J16 CH8+ at School’s Head, a great surprise to many and a historical result. While these guys tailed off a little in the Summer, half of the eight did end up representing GB in Nantes for the GB vs France match, in the eight with Eton – a fantastic and highly respectable feat. This year, the eight has been performing decently, but has really been unable to find the speed to challenge some of the larger rowing schools. This being said, they may see some success in the fours – Borlase have no 2nd 8+, so this four contains all the athletes that did not make the 1st 8+. They have raced at Hampton, where they performed respectably as a coxless four, but their time was comparable to Norwich’s in a coxed four, suggesting that they are around the same speed as some of the faster boats in this category. I would back Borlase for a strong finish here – they are really gutsy, passionate rowers in a club that arguably is already punching well above it’s weight, given the fact that Borlase is a state school – while this is perhaps not practically a great hindrance, it is psychologically a motivator, inspiring these boys to try and take down some of the more established sweep oar schools.

Dulwich College Boat Club

Dulwich haven’t entered a 1st VIII this year – just a 1st IV, and this leads me to believe that this will be a fast boat, that could have it out with Westminster for the title – although I don’t think it will quite have the speed to really challenge their neighbors in pink. Dulwich came second in J18A.4+ at Hampton Head, around 10 seconds ahead of Norwich – while this appears to be the only result I can really draw on, it does suggest a good base speed for this four, and it is likely that they would have moved on some way since then with some focused practice on their home course. In the past few days, the conditions on the Tideway have been very similar to those that the crews will be experiencing on Monday, so hopefully Dulwich have used this to their advantage, and have been out doing pieces into the currently very strong headwind. Dulwich have some strong athletes – Daniel Gorenkin has been doing well as of late, with a strong erg score and a decent placement on the Sunday at GB Trials with his partner from Winchester. Seb Pauwels is also strong on the ergo, and has height to match, although there is talk that he has left rowing behind for basketball – a loss that would certainly be devastating, particularly to a four. All this aside, I think Dulwich have a strong chance on Monday. They are on their home water, and should by now be well drilled in the four – I think a top three finish would be the result to aim for for these guys.

Bedford Modern School

I am assuming, despite the fact that they appear to be starting in the J164+ category, that this is a typo and that this is indeed a Bedford Modern junior coxed four. If it is, then this will be their second boat, and I think it could be pretty strong. They performed very respectably at Hampton Head, beating the Borlase four by 12 seconds, and only being 10 seconds off the winners from Hampton. Bedford Modern are not traditionally a very strong club, but this category is not quite of the same standard as, say, 1st 8+, and I think these guys could really rise to the challenge. Yes, there is limited evidence to draw from, but relative speed does not tend to massively change from race to race in a particular season – if a crew is fast at one head, then you can bet that they’ll probably be fast at the next head. Bedford don’t quite have the depth of some of the other schools on the list, but they row pretty nicely and I think these boys can definitely break into that top 7.

Other schools

In terms of other entries, the standard really does drop off in this category, but there are other schools that could sneak their way up the rankings. George Heriot’s School are coming down from Scotland to race; despite limited time on the Tidway, they often produce some competitive boats up in Scotland, and they could pose a threat here. Particularly given this is their only male entry, look out for these guys on race day. Durham Amateur Rowing Club performed respectably last year in CH8+ at SHORR, and could be on for a decent result this year; their J18 quad recently won at Durham Small Boats Head, and it looks like they’ve got a decent pool of guys in their squad. While Emanuel School BC aren’t perhaps the strongest club on the Tideway, their top boat is entered into this category, and I would be surprised if the best seniors at Emanuel couldn’t take at least a few scalps in a category like this – expect them to make their presence known in the results. Yarm School have similarly entered their top boat into the fours category, and this is a club that has in the past produced some very respectable results in the senior squad. I would be surprised if they didn’t make the top 10 on Monday.

FINISH ORDER – TOP 7

1) Westminster – they are a class club across all categories. Expect a big win.

2) Dulwich – their top crew, and it looks like they’ve had some fair practice in the boat.

3) Norwich A – they have performed well so far in their four, and I expect they’ve gotten even faster since.

4) Beford Modern School – a strong performance against Borlase at Hampton should give them confidence coming into this race.

5) Sir William Borlase – strong J16s from last year should make this a decent boat towards the top end of this category.

6) Canford – I can’t see them tackling the top crews, but they have experience in the boat and could go well.

7) Star – Again, they won’t challenge the top crews, but they too have experience and they have some races under their belts that should stand them in good stead.

 

This concludes my preview. I apologize that I haven’t gone into as much detail with all of the entries, but it is a large category with several boats that I don’t believe will be able to make an impression on the race – all the boats I’ve listed I feel have a chance at fighting for a high finishing position.

Good luck to all crews racing!

Five Man

 

Five Man