National Schools’ Regatta 2015 – Championship Coxed Fours Preview

As the dust settles from the frenzied excitement of the eights racing on Saturday, and the sun ignites Holme Pierrepont once more, welcoming back weary competitors, the coxed fours will take to the water in a vicious display of both sheer wattage and technical prowess. The coxed fours are something of a personal favourite of mine – it’s a real blood-and-guts event, where sheer horsepower often equates to speed on the water. Last year, the coxed fours was a very competitive event that threw up some perhaps unexpected results – with the Championship Eight schools entered in fours being well and truly put in their place by Monmouth, Shiplake and Evesham, who finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively. This is another reason why I like this event so much – it allows non-Champ Eight crews to have their moment, where athletes from schools with far less depth than the likes of Eton or Hampton prove that they are just as good, if not better, than those who compete for the Queen Mother’s Cup on the Saturday.

This year, however, may be slightly different – as I will discuss in my preview. As in all my previews, I will go into depth on each crew, offering opinions on how they will fare on Sunday and at the end, I will offer a finishing order in the final of the 2015 Hedsor Cup.

St Edward’s School

If it were not for the fact that their time in the eight has been rather fraught this year, it would be easy to pick these guys for the win. Sam Gillingham has been on the scene for a fair while now, having represented Great Britain last year at the Coupe de la Jeunesse, along with his fellow Teddies rower Albert Mitchell. Both of these guys will be driving forces in this four – although that’s not to discount Sam Hamilton-Peach, whose size and strength will really come to the fore in this event. As a testament, however, to the power that can be found in this boat, Hamilton-Peach is merely the bowman: Dave Willcox sits in the three seat, an immense unit and someone who is rumored to be capable, in the near future, of a sub-6 minute 2K, putting him, in terms of sheer force, on a par with guys like Charlie Elwes and Tom Digby. The only reason we haven’t seen more of him at trials and the like is because he’s been plagued by injury, which hopefully is long in the past and he ha recovered wholly from. Whether or not this power can be adequately translated into boat-moving ability remains to be seen, but I fancy these guys to put in a strong showing on Sunday. They were pretty dominant at Wallingford Regatta a few weeks ago, beating KCS into second place by over 10 seconds, and they looked calm, composed and within themselves. With the coxing of the hugely experienced and talented Hugo Marsh, who has represented GB at Junior Worlds in the top coxed four and more recently at Munich Junior International Regatta, I think these guys could be the ones to beat.

St Joseph College

This Irish school certainly is not without a wealth of achievement historically, but it is difficult to find much mention of this four’s recent results in the great Internet archives. At the recent Irish Schools’ Regatta held in May, St Joseph’s fielded a silver medal-winning U23 4+, but whether this is the same four as the one that is to be fielded on Sunday is not something I can judge. If this four had been their sole senior sweep entry, I would have assumed that this was their top boat and therefore would possibly have predicted them higher – but this is, as is the case with many of these schools, half of St Joseph’s Child Beale eight. While they may show some blistering pace on the day, I don’t feel I know enough about the crew to justify a high finish prediction.

King’s School, Chester

I can’t really see these guys challenging for the final on Sunday. Yes, they form half of KCH’s Champ Eight, but this is certainly the bottom four (compared to the coxless four with Slater and Higginbottom), and while some of these guys in the coxed four have trialed (Christian Palmer, Dan Weatherly) their campaigns at these trials haven’t been wholly successful. There is some power in this boat – Palmer pulls a 6:25 – but I don’t think that these guys will quite manage to feature without the influence of their top athletes. They’ll come through the time trial, but will get knocked out in the semi.

Radley College

While Charlie Elwes’ reported illness is really unfortunate – and I wish him a speedy recovery – this news is probably being celebrated by the other competitors in the Hedsor Cup. With Elwes in the boat, this would certainly be a very competitive four, having had a good deal of racing experience together and with a massive engine room. However, without him, I think these guys will struggle. One need only look at Radley’s results at Wallingford in the eight to see how much of a difference one man can make – while they were indeed in an unfavourable lane, they did end up losing to both Bedford Modern and St George’s College. This really does not bode well for Radley’s National School’s campaign, and I think they will be really focusing on getting their eight up to speed without their main man rather than overly practicing their Sunday boats. For this reason, I don’t think that Radley will really feature in this race – unless it transpires that Elwes can race, at which point we might be looking at a completely different story.

St Paul’s School

While St Paul’s eight has been recording some very positive results, including a strong win at Wallingford a few weeks ago, we have yet to see any results in fours from these guys since 2014’s Four’s Head, where St Paul’s set the record in some style. St Paul’s have opted to enter two pairs and a four in on Sunday, with David Ambler and Arthur Doyle looking to take home the pairs title, and Alfred Jacquemot and Marco Hughes also on the hunt for a medal, having rowed their pair for GB at Munich. This leaves two of the Four’s Head four in the same boat – Freddie Davidson, who has acquitted himself very well on the Junior Rowing scene, making waves at Spring Assessments and winning the April pairs regatta with partner David Ambler, before winning a bronze medal in the eight at Munich, and Seb Benzecry, who rowed in the Munich eight alongside Freddie and David. These guys are joined by Bertie Woodward-Fisher, who certainly has some size and power to call on, and Harry Gething, whose performance at Spring Assessments was commendable, leaving him a seat away from representing GB. I think that these guys will present a strong challenge. St Paul’s has a real wealth of talented athletes this year, and I think this will show on race day. Whether they have the experience in their boat to overhaul Teddies and the like remains to be seen, but watch out for these guys.

Hampton School – B 

This is a Hampton four comprised of members of the Hampton 2nd Eight, and therefore I really can’t see it playing with the big boys in this event. There is good talent here, and the Hampton 2nd Eight are looking like real contenders in their category – but I just don’t think they’ll have the speed to mix here, and they could be looking at a time trial exit.

Kingston Grammar School

These guys have always been there-or-thereabouts, not quite having the speed to challenge for the top but certainly of a good enough standard to sit well above the bottom crews. Luke Hillier should really be at the forefront of this crew, a strong rower and accomplished sculler to boot who had seen some decent results at GB trials before unfortunately dropping out of the process, and Will Burden as coxswain has also been making a name for himself, coxing well at the GB Junior Potential Camp in Nantes in 2014. KGS recently performed very well at the Thames Ditton Regatta, winning Challenge 8s by beating Canford into 2nd place, and this should give them confidence coming into National School’s. While these guys aren’t the same calibre of athlete found in the Champ Eight crews, I think that they could acquit themselves well here and should definitely progress to the semi final. It is then just a matter of seeing where they can go from there!

The Oratory School

The Oratory haven’t really demonstrated any real speed in their boats thus far, and while this should definitely be seen as an opportunity for the athletes in this four to demonstrate that they are the standout members of their eight, I can’t really see these guys making a dent on the competition. That being said, excitingly for the crew, they beat Shiplake in IM3 coxed fours at Thames Ditton Regatta by around 2 lengths – a sizable margin – and this would suggest that there is a level of speed here that the eight has not quite found, but that might be evident in a four. Who knows – maybe Oratory could surprise us.

Hampton School ‘A’

Hampton haven’t, by all accounts, been having a great season as a 1st VIII. After a disappointing campaign at Wallingford, where after admittedly having raced Challenge Eights in the morning the boys really couldn’t hold their own in their J18 heat, they are seemingly heavily planted on the back foot, and will really need to be focusing on avoiding the terrible brutality of being the sole eight evicted after the new-look Champ Eight time trial. The four entered here is the 2nd small boat that Hampton has entered, with their top athletes – Jens Clausen, Dom Jackson, Tom Long and Chris Zahn, all of whom have been performing well at GB trials – entered into a coxless four. It’s a big ask, then, for these guys in the coxed four. The very nature of Hampton’s rowing system doesn’t realy play into their hands in this boat class – there is a noticeable dearth of raw strength in the Hampton 1st VIII this year, and while this may not be paramount in pairs and coxless fours, in coxed fours and eights this could be fatal. Hampton row well and with a good degree of efficiency, but I don’t think that will be enough to propel them into the final in this event. I have a great deal of respect for Neil Double, whose coaching prowess is undeniable and who has in the past taken ‘weaker’ athletes and developed them into very competitive crews – but I think this year, Hampton are really going to struggle to make an impression.

London Oratory School 

This looks to be London Oratory’s ‘A’ four, with another entered into the coxless category. I have a lot of respect for London Oratory. I remember watching their J15 Ch8+ edge out St Paul’s to take the bronze in 2013, impressed at how a relatively unknown school in the rowing scene could produce such a fantastic result. These guys have formed the core of the London Oratory eight each year – last year, as J16s, they couldn’t quite find the pace to take on the top of the category, and now as a 1st VIII they have been mixing with the Child Beale crews. It feels like they are struggling to find their form this year, and this has been evident in their performances in the eight – a 10th place finish at School’s Head in 1st 8+, and a last place finish in their Wallingford heat – but they are never completely off the pace, never left off the back. I think that the speed is there, but London Oratory just have to work that little bit harder to find it. They have some strong athletes – Joe Ford was initially part of the trialing process, performing modestly but respectably – and they have looked strong and composed in training. It is again just a case of whether this four will have the experience and the composure to perform in this event, as it is likely it will not have had a great deal of time to prepare, with the majority of focus being on the eight. Be that as it may, I think that LOS could surprise some here, and with a strong row they could challenge some Championship crews – Hampton should be firmly in their sights, after their close battle in the eights at Wallingford.

Shiplake College

I’m sure we all remember Shiplake’s fabulous silver medal behind Monmouth in this event last year, and the way it so defied conventional expectations of Championship Eight schools sweeping the small boats board. Unfortunately, I don’t think that Shiplake will be able to match this result this year. Despite having one returner, Henry Cawthorne, from last year’s four, I can’t say that Shiplake have yet justified a high finish prediction here. The other athletes here are certainly not untalented, and at Princeton Shiplake trained in a pretty clean four with some of Sunday’s crew. Most recently, Shiplake finished just behind Hampton in the Challenge eights event at Wallingford Regatta. There is speed here, that much is certain – but it’s clearly not quite the same speed that Shiplake had last year. That being said, depending on how much time the boys spend in this boat, I think that it could potentially challenge for a position in the final.

Reading Blue Coat 

Blue Coat haven’t perhaps been having the season that they would have hoped for. After a slightly mediocre performance at School’s Head, the guys didn’t really get it together well enough for Wallingford, finishing third in their heat – behind both Eton and Hampton’s second eights, although they did manage to beat Sir William Borlase’s strong first eight. I think that there is potential in this Reading crew, but that it has yet to be realized. This puts them in a difficult position coming into the four, as again, schools with eights that have yet to really come together will likely be devoting the majority of their energy to getting the main boat on the right course. For this reason, I can’t see Blue Coat making the final.

King’s College School

The top two KCS athletes have entered in their GB trials pair that has been performing decently at the pairs heads and regattas, and this leaves these four guys from the KCS 1st VIII to do battle in the coxed four. This is another boat class that doesn’t feel particularly tailored to the way that KCS are going at the moment – a boat that seems to be slightly lacking on the power front, but with a degree of technical savvy – and I would therefore assume that they would struggle to mix with the leaders in this event. However, this crew performed respectably at Wallingford Regatta, coming second in the Junior Coxed Fours category to the aforementioned St Edward’s crew. I don’t think a final spot is beyond these guys – but they’ll need to be up for it and raring to go on the semi final start line to get out the blocks as fast as some of the bigger, stronger crews entered in this event.

Eton College 

Our editor has touted Eton for the win in the eight on Saturday, and for good reason – they are a very strong crew with a wealth of strong, talented athletes – Alex Lindsay, Francois Gouws, David Bewicke-Copely and Ludvig Ljungstrom to name but a few. They’ve been performing consistently well throughout the season, and I would not for a minute doubt their small boats ability. Eton really have a split in their boat of incredibly strong and heavy rowers, such as Bewicke-Copley, and the more technical (and, perhaps, efficient) Alex Lindsay and Gouws, which means that their fours seem less to do with an ‘A’ or ‘B’ four, but rather a heavier, more powerful four is entered into the coxed four category, and a lighter, more technical four is entered into the coxless fours category. This means that the athletes in this Hedsor Cup boat are really suited to the coxed four as a boat, and I think despite any controversy surrounding David’s performance at Spring Assessments, it’s impossible to deny that he’s got a lot of power and will likely make a well-set boat fly. I’m excited to see what these guys can produce on Sunday – I have a feeling that they’ll be gunning for that top spot, hunting down the likes of Teddies and St Paul’s to take home the cup.

Shrewsbury School

Shrewsbury are the really exciting Championship crew of the regatta for me. They’ve really proved themselves this season, silencing the naysayers, by performing very well at School’s Head and going on to beat Abingdon in their Wallingford heat and then winning Elite eights at Bedford regatta. I think this is an exciting time for the crew, and they’ll be gunning for a medal in this event. They’ve got some big units here – guys built for boats like this – and they’ve fielded successful fours before. I think that their Saturday race will probably have a dramatic influence on how they fare on Sunday, from a psychological perspective – but I genuinely believe that if Shrewsbury want it enough, they can take it. The ball is in their court.

Maidstone Invicta 

Maidstone Invicta haven’t yet really made a showing in the Junior Rowing men’s sweep scene in 2015. After a disappointing NSR campaign last year, and a real lack of racing experience this year, I think they’ll struggle to make it into the semi finals – although this year they have managed to field a Child Beale eight, which suggests their program may be gaining popularity. Maybe in a few years we’ll see some real speed from Maidstone Invicta – but currently I feel they’re still in the building phase, strengthening their junior program race by race.

Prediction for the final – St Edward’s School, St Paul’s School, Eton College, Shrewsbury School, Shiplake College, Hampton School

Winner – It’ll be hard fought, but I’ll stick my neck out and say that Shrewsbury School could take this one home.

Good luck to all crews racing!

Five Man

 

Five Man