National Schools’ Regatta 2015- Junior 16 Coxless Fours Preview

This event is always a great one to watch, as it really separates out the technical and stylish boat movers from the clutter of Saturday’s colossal eights. We also usually have a good mix of championship and first eight crews both entering and qualifying; National Schools’ is known as a ground for less competitive athletes in eights to prove themselves proficient in fours categories. Since there are 19 entries in total, I’ll go through the crews I think are most likely to have a place in the final by order of processional.

Aberdeen Schools Rowing Association

Fours have already proven a successful boat class for these four boys at National Schools’, as we can see from their silver medal in J15 coxed fours last year. Despite not having entered an eight, they have made the confident move of entering coxless four even with the less competitive and familiar coxed fours category being available to enter. This confidence is not unsubstantiated; they won a bronze medal in this class at Gent Spring International Regatta, a similarly competitive event. They’ll be in for some stiff competition with the caliber of athlete coming in from the eights events, but their chances for making the final look good given their experience and history in this boat class.

Westminster School

Westminster have been untouchable this season, and actually undefeated in this eight over the 2015 season (so far). Their first and second place in coxed fours at Wallingford not only shows the astounding quality of oarsmen throughout the boat, but also that they can switch between boat class seemingly effortlessly and still achieve impressive results. While the athletes most successful in small boats are entered in the pairs and doubles event, this boat will still be a sleek and speedy unit, and I’m almost certain they’ll have a place in the final. Medals are definitely on the cards for this crew.

Hampton School

I hate to mention it again, but this 3rd/4th placing curse seems to follow members of the J16 eight in any class they try their hand at. Their coxless four at Hampton Head earlier this year came fourth in the category, although I assume this crew is only made up of half the members of that crew, the other two moving into the coxless pair. By the looks of it, these boys are the powerhouse of their eight and Hampton are well known for producing fast fours at both J16 and senior level. There’s no question as to whether they’ll be competitive, and I could certainly see them challenging, as per the norm, for the bronze or fourth place positions.

Norwich School

Norwich have had a very impressive season in the first eights categoy, taking a lead at Schools’ Head by 28 seconds, and placing them very close to Shiplake College. Their foray into coxed fours was impressive last season, beating both Dulwich College and Westminster School by over a length in one instance. This would suggest they can row the boat well, so the question is: how will they hold up in the presence of the crews they haven’t competed against? I can’t answer that today, but their technical proficiency from a lot of time spent sculling in the winter will certainly give them good grounds to compete towards a place in the final on.

St Paul’s School

Similar to Hampton, this crew gets my vote of confidence from a combination of history in the boat class; whether their style of rowing is suited to fours, and this year’s strength in their eights category, which has been pretty tremendous. At Hampton Head their fours came third and fifth in the different categories, which bodes well for whichever of those fours are racing on Sunday. I would be surprised if they didn’t make the final, propelled by the raw power within this boat.

Eton College

While unsurprising, Eton’s victory in the coxed four at Schools’ Head was impressive in terms of its margin over the rest of the field. They haven’t been much seen out and about this season, but from the BASHER results and the rumored ludicrously low average erg score coming out of this squad, I can’t see many scenarios where Eton does not qualify for the final of this event. They’ll certainly be looking to take a swing at Westminster who will also be racing for the gold medal with them on Saturday.

Shiplake College

Shiplake have been an impressive bunch this season, with their successful step up to competing in the championship category surprising many. They raced to a bronze medal in J15 4x+ at this event last year, and I think this sculling success should translate very well into the coxless four. Norwich School and Aberdeen Schools RA will certainly give them a good fight for a place in the final, but this crew have some formidable athletes including Seb Newman and Henry Blois-Brooke (1st place in J16 2x at GB February assessments), and this could give them the edge they need to take their place in the final.

Some crews to watch are City of Oxford RC, who have been performing well in quads this season and host the J15 2x gold medal double (2014); Kingston Grammar School, who came out ahead of both Hampton and St Paul’s at Hampton Head in this boat class; King’s School Chester who have been largely absent this season, but also have a history of churning out top class fours; and finally Dulwich College, who have some strong athletes which may make them competitive with some of the top-tier crews.

My Predictions: Westminster, Hampton, St Paul’s, Eton, Shiplake and Aberdeen Schools RA for the final.
Winner: Very difficult to call, but at an educated guess I’d be in favour of Eton College.