Wallingford Regatta 2015 – J18A 8+ Preview

With only a few weeks to go until the National School’s Regatta, the first major race of the regatta season in the UK, Wallingford Regatta, is upon us. Excitingly, it has attracted several of the ‘main players’ in CH8+ as well as in 1st and 2nd 8+ that will be battling it out for the national title later this month. Needless to say, with such a caliber of entries and so much at stake this close to NSR, I think we’ll be seeing some very tight racing between some very quick junior eights.

In this preview, I will offer a prediction for the results of each heat for the J18 A 8+, before then talking about who will come through and take the overall win in the final.

Junior/School A Eights 

HEAT A:

Molesey

The Oratory School

Shiplake College

The King’s School, Chester

Latymer Upper School

St Paul’s School – A

There’s one boat that stands out for me in this heat – St Paul’s 1st VIII. After a very strong (albeit probably disappointing for the boys) result at School’s Head, they have established themselves as one of the school crews to beat – and despite the rather prevalent assumption that they will not be able to find the same speed in the head season, at the recent GB Trials at Nottingham they managed 3 pairs in the top 12 – a feat only matched by Westminster – with the top St Paul’s pair of Freddie Davidson and David Ambler winning the A final outright, and Marco Hughes and Alfred Jacquemot coming sixth in the same final. All four of these boys will be representing GB at Munich this month – by far the highest number of representatives from a single school. This really points to the conclusion these guys can race short distance just as proficiently as they can race long distance, and they’ve got a boat full of great athletes. For this reason, while we haven’t seen anything from their eight yet this season, I think they’ll have no problem winning this heat. King’s Chester should take second place – while their performance at School’s Head was somewhat lacklustre for a crew of their considerable physical strength, they will certainly come into their own on a regatta course, where they can utilize the raw power of athletes like Harry Higginbottom, Christian Palmer and indeed the ineffable Alex Slater, who, after a strong showing at Spring Assessments, looks to be in the top 4 at Munich with Luke Towers, Charlie Elwes and Tom Digby. However, King’s Chester’s results at Ghent look to be perhaps somewhat mediocre – they posted a 6:11 in their race on Sunday, with their second eight putting in a good performance to finish in 6:13 in the subsequent race. While apparently the 1st VIII’s race was pretty poor, this is still somewhat alarming for the guys in the 1st VIII. Nevertheless, I can’t see KCH finishing anywhere lower than second. Latymer Upper School and Shiplake College will be vying for the 3rd place finish. Shiplake put a good 8 seconds into Latymer at School’s Head, but Latymer are a very racy crew and I think their sheer aggression will see them well in the regatta season. They have also, of course, had some recent success with Tom Yates earning a spot in Munich, with his pairs partner Ryan Parkinson getting very close on strokeside. Latymer certainly don’t have a dearth of strong athletes – it’s whether they have the raw power across the boat to be successful in a regatta that remains to be seen. We haven’t seen much of Shiplake as of yet, but one can be certain they’ll have some power to throw around. However, Latymer are efficient and technically skilled oarsmen, and I think they’ll pip Shiplake on Sunday. Molesey will follow in 5th – a decent crew with some accomplished athletes with a lot of horsepower – Daniel Ayres and Will Johnston are names that spring to mind – but they won’t have the speed to catch the schoolboy crews. The Oratory School won’t mix with these top 5 – I have a feeling they’ll be well off the pace.

HEAT B

Radley College

London Oratory School

Hampton School – A 

Bedford Modern School

St George’s College 

Abingdon School

This is arguably the most competitive heat, with the 1st VIIIs of Abingdon, Radley and Hampton all trying to make that top spot to avoid the repechage. Throw some pretty competitive Child Beale crews into the mix and this is shaping up to be quite a heat. Considering the fact that there appears to be a pretty strong cross wind on Sunday that will favor lane six, I’m going to predict Abigdon School to win this heat – not necessarily because they are the fastest school out of the heat, but I think we’ll find that there is a considerable lane bias come race day. That is not to say that Abingdon won’t be fast – they are undoubtedly a regatta crew rather than a head crew, with a good deal of power in the boat – particularly in the form of Tom Digby, who really should be a household name in junior rowing by now – but also guys like Calum Farwell will utilize their strong erg scores to motor the boat down the course. They have seen some decent results at the recent GB pairs trials at Nottingham, despite Abingdon’s reputation in small boats. It will, then, be interesting to see whether they can pull out a strong result on Sunday, and match the speed of the Abingdon 1st VIIIs of recent years. Radley College will almost certainly have something to say about this, however. Radley performed very well at School’s Head, considering the fact that some tactical steering by Teddies cox Hugo Marsh may well have somewhat hampered Radley’s speed in certain portions of the race – allegedly they had put significant distance into Eton before they were presented with the issue of St Edward’s. If this is the case, then this crew has some serious speed that we have yet to adequately see. With athletes in the boat like Charlie Elwes and James Murrell, they are sure to be fast – particularly over a 2K course. Also in the running will be Hampton School, who have a more favorable lane than Radley to work with. Hampton’s problem remains that they have a slight dearth of power in the boat, despite some athletes who can really move a boat – particularly small boats – such as Chris Zahn, Tom Long and Dom Jackson. They have a strong back end, which is tailored to sprint racing, so I expect a good performance by these guys on the day, but I can’t see them being able to keep up with the physically bigger likes of Abingdon and Radley. Behind them St George’s will be leading Bedford Modern and London Oratory into the line. Out of these three Child Beale crews, St George’s is the strongest, but one must never discount Bedford Modern, who have some pretty strong individual athletes in the crew, or indeed London Oratory, who have looked very tidy in training. Whatever the result, this is certainly a race of two halves.

HEAT C

Claire’s Court School 

SASRU

Bryanston School

Hampton School – B

Eton College – B 

Reading Blue Coat

This is certainly the weakest of the heats, but also perhaps one of the closest. At the forefront will be Eton College, who have once again managed to field a second eight that is very competitive with Champ Eights. This is surely testament to the fantastic depth within Eton’s program that they are able to year upon year produce such quality across their whole fleet of boats. I’m sure the same can be said for Hampton School, who will also be featuring in this race despite their second eight status – although probably not as highly as Eton, who have just got a level of power in the boat that Hampton can’t match, and that is desperately needed in the regatta season. Reading Blue Coat will be giving chase. This is a crew that had a lot of potential at the start of the year, but that hasn’t quite been able to realize it as the year has progressed. However, I think they can perform strongly against this field, and should be looking for the third place here. Claire’s Court and Bryanston won’t really be able to feature in this event, but should use it as a stepping stone to test their speed for NSR, as the date draws nearer and nearer. Then we have the enigmatic SASRU – the South African Schools Rowing Union, who appear to be coming over with a group of J16s and J17s. A decent result in Ghent certainly increases their threat level, and the British crews should be weary of the South African threat; however, it is always difficult for a foreign entry to make much headway, and I think they’ll have to put in a very good performance to catch Eton.

HEAT D

Sir William Borlase School

Eton College – A 

St Paul’s School – B 

Shrewsbury School 

Mossbourne 

This is shaping up to be a very good heat, with a potential rivalry developing between Eton’s 1st VIII and the ever-quickening Shrewsbury 1st VIII after their close finish at School’s Head. I think Eton College are likely to take the win here, however, and I’m not just following the crowd in saying that – Eton already having been touted by some to win NSR – I’m saying it because they have a fantastic boat moving ability that transcends the sizable power they have in the middle of the boat in the form of the hugely strong David Bewicke-Copely and Ben Alduous. It’s this boat-moving ability that saw Alex Lindsay, who has not yet broken 6:40 on the erg for his 2K, become the third-ranked bowsider at Spring Assessments behind Luke Towers and Charlie Elwes, destroying all other competition – even the very talented Thames rower Oscar Bird. It’s this boat-moving ability that saw Lindsay and his partner Francois Gouws win the B final of the recent GB pairs regatta strongly. It’s this boat-moving ability that I think will see them through to a win here. They are a fast crew; there’s no doubt about it. Whether they have the speed to fulfill the expectations of some, remains to be seen. Shrewsbury will not be far behind, however. I’ve been really impressed with how they’ve kept their focus and determination, seeing them to a strong 5th place finish at School’s Head – not far behind the Eton crew. They, too, have a good deal of power in the boat, and if they can utilize it effectively I think they can really challenge on Sunday – if not, then we may see a return of Shrewsbury’s old, middling ways, where they can’t quite graduate past the lower ranks of the Champ Eight crews. Instinctively, I think this might be the year we see the rise that Shrewsbury I feel at this point really needs. Sir William Borlase will follow these two stalwarts of Champ Eight rowing, a respectable and focused crew in their own right, that have really acquitted themselves well into the 1st eight category after a good season for the J16s last year – indeed, the majority of this year’s 1st VIII is comprised of the J16s of last year. They will be looking for a strong marker to put down at this phase in the season, and will likely go out all-guns-blazing, as 1st eight crews often do when faced with the challenge of racing Champ Eights. They may well surprise Eton and Shrewsbury with a fast start – at which point, they could really go from strength to strength. St Paul’s School’s second eight haven’t quite been experiencing the success that I believe they have the potential to experience this year, and they will be looking to change that tomorrow. After a disappointing BASHER, they will want to right some wrongs and put in a strong performance, even if it is only for a time rather than a position. Mossbourne will struggle to feature, but I have a huge amount of admiration for the program and the way they are attempting to revitalize academy rowing – I wish them all the luck in the world, but I can’t see them having an impact on this particular race.

THE FINAL

Out of the 23 crews entered, the 6 to make the final will be St Paul’s, Eton (1st and 2nd VIIIs), Radley, Abingdon and Shrewsbury. For my preview of the final, I will go through markers in the race and offer specific predictions of relative positions:

250m: Eton half a length up on St Paul’s off the start. St Paul’s relatively slow start means that they are instantly on the back foot. Radley, coming off a fast start, a quarter of a length down. Shrewsbury and Abingdon level a quarter of a length down on Radley. Eton B half a length off Abingdon/Shrewsbury.

500m: St Paul’s encroaching on Eton; now a quarter of a length. Radley still a quarter of a length up on Shrewsbury. Abingdon slipped down a few seats. Eton B falling off the back.

1000m: St Paul’s level with Eton after a substantial push, who are in turn 3/4 of a length in front of Radley, who are now level with Shrewsbury. Abingdon half a length down on these two boats. Clear water to Eton B.

1500m: Eton and St Paul’s trading blows stroke for stroke. Eton have pushed away from Radley/Shrewsbury – now 1 length up. Abingdon 3/4 of a length down on these two boats. Lengthening divide to Eton B.

Finish: Personally, I think it will be a really close call come the finish. I think that Eton will have a strong sprint, but whether St Paul’s can respond to this remains to be seen. Eton/St Paul’s will take the victory. 3 seconds back to Shrewsbury, who pip Radley into 4th. Abingdon a second off in 5th. Around 5-6 seconds back to Eton B.

Of course, this is just speculation, but I think this if this is indeed the final, then it would play out something like that. Whatever the result, this is sure to be a fantastic event (as it is every year) and I am very much looking forward to watching some of the best Champ Eight crews in the country face off.

Good luck to all crews!

Five Man

Five Man