Henley Royal Regatta 2015 – Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup Preview

The premier event of the Junior Rowing season is almost upon us. Ever since National Schools, crews have been tinkering with line-ups and technique in order to ensure they peak at exactly the right time: 1st July. A Henley win is the pinnacle of any rower’s career and many spend years chasing a medal. For the boys in contention this week it is the culmination of years of hard work, and no one will want to leave empty-handed. The draw has served up some exciting prospects throughout the regatta, most notably the Abingdon St Paul’s match up on the Wednesday.

For this preview I will offer a prediction of the result of each PE race on the Wednesday, and then I’ll go on to predict the crews that will make the semi-finals.

 

King’s College School, Wimbledon vs Portora Royal

Despite the fact that KCS were forced to race the qualifiers due to a rather mediocre performance at Marlow Regatta, where they lost to St Paul’s 2nd 8+, I would suggest that KCS won’t have too many problems beating this Irish crew on Wednesday. KCS spent the winter and spring racing in the Championship Eight category, until they decided in the summer that racing in the 1st 8+ category would be more productive for the crew. This decision culminated in a fine silver medal at NSR in the Child Beale Cup, just behind a strong Shiplake crew. The KCS crew isn’t short of technically competent rowers – Alex Oldroyd and Will Nelson have been performing commendably at GB trials – but I’ve always felt that the crew is lacking in real raw power, meaning that it would always have been difficult for KCS to mix with the ‘big boys’ in Champ Eights. However, they are a tidy unit, and I think it would be a harsh result to get sent home at this point. While Portora Royal have been performing strongly in Ireland, particularly at the Irish School’s Championships where they took home the gold, the standard of competition at Henley is much higher, and I think they’ll have a tough time getting far – if past the Wednesday. Had they drawn a slightly lower quality crew, I’d say they might have progressed – they aren’t by any means the slowest crew in the regatta – but I think while they could run KCS close, they won’t be able to overhaul the Tideway crew and KCS will progress to the Thursday.

 

Verdict: 1 ½ lengths to King’s College School

 

Gonzaga High School, U.S.A. vs Bedford School

As a selected crew, Gonzaga are entering this race as the strong favourites – and I believe this is a deserved position. They are touted as probably the fastest scholastic US crew this year, having won the SRAA National Championships, and while they aren’t as fast as some of the US club crews such as Oakland Strokes, they are certainly towards the top end of US junior eights. Bedford are undoubtedly a good crew, with a fine 4th place in the Child Beale cup to their name, but they certainly aren’t one of the top junior eights in the country. They’ll give Gonzaga a good fight for a while, but I can’t see them featuring past Fawley. Gonzaga to progress through to the Thursday.

 

Verdict: 3 lengths to Gonzaga High School

 

Salisbury School, U.S.A. vs Reading Blue Coat

This might get pretty close, but I’m going to go with a Salisbury School win here. Salisbury have been performing well in the US, particularly at the NEIRA Regatta. However, they’ve lost a few of their guys due to being over the PE age limit, meaning they are a weaker crew than the one racing in the States. This hasn’t slowed them too much, though, and they raced well at Marlow Regatta to finish 5th, not far behind US rivals Lawrenceville and Boston College, although a good clear water distance to SPS. I expect this to be enough to beat Reading Blue Coat, who have been performing decently in 1st 8+ but not making waves by any means. A 5th place finish in the Child Beale final certainly puts them towards the top end of the Child Beale spectrum, but I would say Salisbury are pretty close to Champ Eight standard. For this reason, I can’t see Reading overhauling Salisbury, and the Americans will go through to race Eton on the Thursday – a race in turn I can’t see them winning, what with the sheer strength and experience of Eton when it comes to HRR.

 

Verdict: 2 lengths to Salisbury School

 

Monmouth School vs Eton College

Eton will make pretty short work of this Monmouth crew – and they’ll have to if they want to seriously be considered as potential favourites for retaining their PE title this year. The fact that they won last year won’t really affect how they race this year – it’s a very new crew, despite a few returners – but they certainly look in training like a force to be reckoned with. They have obviously been performing well throughout the year, running SPS close at NSR in the eight, and they had a good showing at Marlow (although it’s lucky for them, and I suppose the rest of the PE entrants, that Kent School aren’t entering the PE). With units like David Bewicke-Copely putting down some serious power in the middle of the boat, and with the smooth rhythm of Alex Lindsay bringing a level of sophistication to an otherwise quite ruggedly aggressive Eton crew, they blend ‘style and substance’ well and despite their self-proclamation of appearing ‘agricultural’, they actually appear far more delicate and technical than they perhaps they let on. I think they’re giving the likes of Westminster a lot to think about this year, and they’ve been given a relatively straightforward draw for the first few rounds that will ensure they have the energy to continue the fight in the latter stages. Monmouth might pose a challenge to, perhaps, the Barrier, but they haven’t really shown great form this year. They haven’t managed to find the speed that their top four possessed last year, and have generally been towards the middle of the 1st 8+ category. Eton’s one problem facing a crew like Monmouth could be arrogance; one might remember last year how Eton beat Canford on the Wednesday only by ¾ of a length, which seemed a rather close call at the time. However, the Canford of last year was better than the Monmouth of this year, and I would even say that the Eton crew of this year is better than the Eton crew of last year. They pose a serious threat to the regatta, and they are certainly one to watch to take the PE.

 

Verdict: Easily to Eton

 

The King’s School, Chester vs Sir William Borlase

King’s School Chester have struggled to compete at the top level this year but I am sure they are looking to turn things around as they come South for the last race of the year. They really struggled at NSR, scraping through the time trial but bombing out of their semi and then taking last place in the Little Final. I am a believer, however, in a King’s Chester comeback, and despite an almost anomalously poor performance at Marlow, I think they have the propensity to make it through this year – possibly to the Friday, after they’ll likely face Phillip’s Academy, Andover. They’ve got some good talent in the form of Alex Slater, who is one of GB’s top guns this year, and Harry Higginbottom, who recently joined the ‘sub 6:15 2K’ club, but it’s talent that is perhaps too concentrated. There is, in other words, a dropoff both in power and technical ability throughout the boat, and this has meant that King’s Chester has never really been able to mix it with some of the other Champ Eight crews. However, they should certainly be able to put a nail in the coffin of Sir William Borlase, who come into the regatta as a pretty successful 1st 8+ crew but not one that is likely to be able to really challenge a Champ Eight crew. Had they managed to perform well in the Child Beale at NSR, we might be looking at a different story here, but the fact they didn’t make the final suggests to me that they won’t have quite the strength to progress this year. Of course, it’s a pretty fledgling program that Borlase has created when it comes to the eights, and despite the fact they aren’t quite fast enough, perhaps, this year, they have laid some solid foundations for the years to come, and have proved that Borlase isn’t just a school for scullers. They won’t, however, beat King’s Chester here, and Chester will go on to face the boys from the US in round 2.

 

Verdict: 2 ½ lengths to King’s School, Chester

 

St George’s College vs Phillip’s Academy, Andover, U.S.A.

Philips Academy raced well this year on the other side of the Atlantic, finishing a solid 2nd in the NEIRAs just 0.25 seconds behind the fast Kent crew that has entered the Temple this year, beating Boston and Salisbury along the way. Given this I was a little disappointed at their Marlow performance where they finished a dismal 15th in the time-trial, behind both Boston and Salisbury, before withdrawing before their final. At Reading Amateur they lost to Eton’s 1st 8 by a length, however the round before they beat their 3rd 8 by the same margin, suggesting some decent speed. Given their general season results I would expect them to deal easily with a St George’s crew which only qualified for the 1st 8 B final at NSR, despite finishing 6th in the category at SHORR. With Sam Powell being the only real stand-out athlete in the SGC boat, I expect Phillips Academy to deal with them easily.

 

Verdict: 3 lengths to Phillip’s Academy Andover

 

Hampton School vs Shrewsbury School

This is quite an exciting matchup for a Wednesday race, and it will be a shame to see either of these crews leave the competition so early – although in my mind there is one clear winner here. Shrewsbury have been an impressive presence in Champ Eights this year, dragging themselves out of the abject mediocrity of last year into a position where they are continually challenging for the minor medals in the most competitive category in the country for junior rowing. Their development under head coach Athol Hundermark has been really positive, and they’ve been a form crew even from the winter – some excellent results in early heads culminated in a strong fifth place finish at School’s Head, and the crew went from strength to strength through the Summer, beating a much-fancied Abingdon crew at Wallingford Regatta and going on to finish a close fifth in one of the closest NSR Champ Eight finals in recent memory. While none of these guys have really showed their faces in the GB trials circuit, they are all good athletes in their own right, and they’ve got some big units in the middle of the boat. Hampton is sure to pose a challenge that Shrewsbury should really be thinking hard about; they’ve got great technical skill and strong talent in the form of Chris Zahn, Tom Long, Jens Clausen and Dom Jackson – all of whom have a pretty considerable power to weight ratio and this has been showing at GB trials – but I don’t think they’ll have the power to beat Shrewsbury. Hampton have been looking incredibly tidy paddling around the course, but then again, they always do. Shrewsbury for the win – but not by a huge amount.

 

Verdict: 1 ½ lengths to Shrewbury

 

The King’s School, Canterbury vs Westminster

Despite my respect for King’s Canterbury – particularly the top end of the squad, who won the 1st 4+ category at NSR this year – this is going to be a pretty uneven contest. Westminster enter the regatta as arguably the favourite, their exploits this year pretty legendary for a Westminster crew – not only were they the first Westminster 1st VIII to win Champ Eights at School’s Head, but also the first to win Champ Eights at NSR; only HRR stands in their way in their quest to complete the prestigious ‘Triple’. They’ve been the form crew all year, and despite being run close by SPS a few times, anyone they’ve met have fallen before the men in pink. With incredible talent in the boat – Sam Meijer has represented GB numerous times as a sculler, and Alex Balgarnie and Oswald Stocker rowed in the recent Munich Junior International Regatta – they are surely the crew to beat at Henley. King’s Canterbury won’t pose a threat, here; they’ve come on well this year and seen some good development this year, but unfortunately they won’t be progressing past the Wednesday this year. Their only hope that I can see is to throw everything in at the start and hope to put Westminster under pressure enough to force them into tensing up and rowing short – we’ve already seen this at Marlow Regatta, where a charge by Radley in the final of IM2 8+ saw Westminster under a lot of pressure, and visibly uncomfortable with John Gearing’s crew breathing down their necks. And indeed, Westminster will be feeling all the pressure that comes with the label of ‘favourite’ – a label that is particularly tough to bear when it comes to the match racing format of Henley. However, realistically, Westminster will easily progress through this round and go strongly onwards through the regatta – and if all goes to plan, they’ll go on to win.

 

Verdict: Easily to Westminster

 

St Paul’s School vs Abingdon School

This race is aptly summed up by the tweet from @HenleyRegatta mentioning the ‘roar’ that went up when this draw was announced. Two Championship 8 finalist schools meeting each other in the first round is a mouth-watering prospect. It is a shame that one of these classy crews has to go home early, but I can’t look past the record of St Paul’s this year. It’s an incredibly accomplished crew, filled with standout athletes – Arthur Doyle, the talismanic 6-man who has been for the past three years one of the strongest stroke-side rowers in the country; Freddie Davidson and David Ambler who have been making waves in the GB trials circuit in their pair, winning in February and in April, both representing GB in the bronze-medal winning 8+ at Munich along with fellow SPS rower Seb Benzecry, with Marco Hughes and Alfred Jacquemot performing admirably in the four and pair. Harry Gething and Bertie Woodward-Fisher also have been performing strongly at GB trials this year, particularly Gething who was incredibly close to a seat in the GB squad at Munich. They have raced Abingdon, by my count, 6 times this year, although once being indirect at Wallingford, and prevailed with each encounter. Abingdon, of course, also have their share of fine athletes – particularly Tom Digby, who after racing in the top GB four at the Junior World Championships last year has established himself as the top junior sweep oarsman in the country. The boat is filled with incredibly powerful athletes such as Callum Farwell and Max Townley; but despite Abingdon running them close in the National Schools semi-final, where a strong start saw them leading St Paul’s for around 1500 metres, I think St Paul’s mid-race speed will be too strong and regrettably the boys in pink will be sent packing.

 

Verdict: 1 Length to St Paul’s School

 

Canford School vs Latymer Upper School

While Latymer should really be the strong favourites coming into this race given their strong performances this year both at School’s Head, where they won 1st 8+, and NSR, where they won a bronze in the same category. However, if any regatta could throw up a shock result, it’s Henley. You might remember how last year Latymer beat Champ Eight crew King’s Chester on the Wednesday; this year, I would suggest that Canford are fast enough to ensure that Latymer, if caught resting on their laurels, could suffer a surprise at the hands of the Canford boys. Leading the Canford crew is Jonny Naylor, who is one of the leading figures in the GB trialling system this year. He’s been vying for a seat in the top GB four all year – however, it looks like it may be veering towards taking on Alex Slater instead. Be that as it may, Naylor is a talented athlete who is sure to be one of the top guys going to Worlds this year. Latymer has its share of talent too – a telling fact is that Tom Yates, the only member of the crew to represent GB so far this year at the Munich International Regatta, is sitting in the 3 seat – and generally it’s proven that it has sufficient speed to beat this Canford crew; 6 seconds in the semi final at NSR is a margin that cannot be ignored. However, as I’ve said before, this is a regatta that has the propensity to throw up a surprise result, and I figure that this is a race where that just might happen. However, with the evidence strongly pointing in Latymer’s favour, I can only predict a Latymer win here – but watch this space.

 

Verdict: 2 lengths to Latymer Upper School

 

Ratsgymnasium Osnabrűck, Germany vs The London Oratory School

Ratsgymnasium Osnabruck have managed to win a seed this year, despite the fact that I believe they aren’t quite the same quality as the other seeded crews in this event. They have had some decent results over in Germany, but these guys aren’t fantastically talented individual athletes, and they don’t look like they’ve got the technical precision to challenge any other seeded crews this year. However, they should beat London Oratory. While it should be commended that this is the first year LOS has managed to qualify a crew for Henley, I think it’ll be a Wednesday exit for these guys – they just don’t have the physical strength, or indeed the technical prowess, to mix it with the top end junior eights. They’ve performed decently in 1st 8+ throughout the year, but again, I just don’t think they’re strong enough this year. They are, of course, a pretty young crew, having been together since the J15s, and they’ll be together again next year, where I feel they might stand a better chance of progressing further.

 

Verdict: 2 lengths to Ratsgymnasium Osnabruck

 

St Edward’s School vs Lawrenceville School, U.S.A.

This race hasn’t received a lot of coverage in the buildup to the regatta, probably because attention has been distracted away by the magnitude of the SPS/Abingdon race. However, this has the propensity to be a real corker between two very good crews. St Edward’s have had a disappointing season thus far; the promise of having seven returners from last year’s HRR-finalist eight never materialized into real speed, and after a mediocre showing at School’s Head, they were the one Champ Eight crew that failed to make the semi-finals at NSR, coming last in the time trial and being instantly relegated to the ‘Little Final’. However, they pulled out a very strong performance in said final, beating Hampton and King’s Chester by some margin, and setting the fourth fastest time of the day in the process – a 6:07, only a couple of seconds behind Eton and SPS. I have long believed there is a well of untapped potential that is just waiting to be unleashed; with guys like Sam Gillingham and Albert Mitchell bringing a wealth of experience – both national and international – to the table, and units like Dave Willcox and Sam Hamilton-Peach chucking it down in the middle of the boat, all under the skilled and tactical gaze of GB’s star junior coxswain, Hugo Marsh, there’s got to be speed waiting to be found. And they’ve looked good out on the course – very clean for a crew of their size – to the extent that I think Teddies should be a serious concern for some of the more established crews in this event. They face stiff competition, however, from Lawrenceville School, who managed a 6th place finish in the Men’s Varsity Eights at the SRAA National Championships, and a very close 5th at Marlow Regatta in IM1 8+, mixing it with the likes of Boston College High School and Thames Rowing Club’s 2nd VIII. They are one of a good batch of American crews coming over for a crack at the Princess Elizabeth, and I think they’ll give Teddies a run for their money. Lawrenceville, like many American crews, are fast starters, and Teddies will need to keep their composure if they want to see the Americans away tomorrow. However, I have a dogged faith in St Edward’s, despite their results this season, and I think they’ll take the win in what might be a close and exciting contest.

 

Verdict: ¾ lengths to St Edward’s School

 

Radley College vs George Watson’s

This will be an easy win for Radley; George Watson’s haven’t really shown great speed at School’s Head or NSR, and I don’t think that their natural Scottish hardiness will stand them in good stead enough to take down the men in red tomorrow. Radley, on the other hand, I believe could be the dark horses of the whole regatta. It feels that not a great deal of attention has been paid to them, despite strong results throughout the year – 4th at School’s Head despite being held up, 4th at NSR without their main man, Charlie Elwes, and 1st at NSR in the Champ Coxed Fours category – and one must remember Radley are famous for their ‘Henley peak’. This Wednesday draw also grants them what will inevitably become a paddle for the latter stages of the race, meaning they can conserve vital energy that would have been expended had they drawn another Champ Eight school, as St Paul’s have with Abingdon. Most scary for the other competitors in the regatta is the way they ran Westminster so close at Marlow Regatta. While the eventual margin was 2 seconds, Westminster were under serious pressure and it looked like they were really charging to stay ahead, with shouts flying out heard from 200 metres away. This is only to be expected, of course: Radley do have more strength than it might first seem. While attention is obviously drawn by Charlie Elwes, the titan in the seven seat (interesting choice by John Gearing!), there are actually a host of powerful athletes throughout the boat. They also have the luxury of starting as a crew that isn’t considered ‘favourite’, meaning considerably less pressure rides on their success – there isn’t a sense that they have to save themselves for an inevitable final, as might be the case with a crew like Westminster. This gives Radley a raw, unpredictable element that could serve them well in the latter stages of the regatta.

 

Verdict: Easily to Radley College

 

Shiplake College vs Bedford Modern School

This might be close off the start, but will quickly develop into a Shiplake-led affair; Shiplake who have really made their mark on the Child Beale category after winning NSR in some style. While some might question their choice to enter 1st Eights instead of Champ Eights, it won’t make a difference at Henley, and it won’t stop them from beating Bedford Modern in the first round. BMS have had a decent season thus far, but nothing groundbreaking – and they certainly haven’t been showing the same level of speed as Shiplake this year. Shiplake really do look like a Championship crew – they’re very well drilled, and exude a level of confidence and sheer patriotism that is so prevalent in the upper echelons of British junior rowing. Perhaps it is a lack of physical power that has held them back this year from sticking with the Championship crews – and this lack of power will be something that won’t get them past the Thursday, where they’ll undoubtedly run into the aforementioned Radley crew that I can see imposing themselves onto the Friday – possibly the Saturday. However, for this Wednesday matchup, Shiplake will take the win without too much effort.

 

Verdict: 3 lengths to Shiplake College

 

Shawnigan Lake School, Canada vs Belen Jesuit Prep., U.S.A.

This is another great race that really should be receiving more coverage than it currently is. It’s a shame that either of these crews has to exit the competition so early; both are very strong in their own right, and both are leaders in their respective countries: Shawnigan Lake is by far the strongest Canadian scholastic crew this year, highlighted by their strong win in the Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association Championships in the Varsity Eight category, and as a rule of thumb only come over to Henley when they think they’ve got a strong chance of winning the event – indeed, Shawnigan was the last overseas crew to win the PE way back in 2008. It’s a crew that should be playing on the minds of some of the better British crews in the competition, and provided it makes the Friday, I think there could be a really exciting match between Radley and Shawnigan. However, Belen Jesuit Prep, in their first year of entry into the Henley Royal Regatta, will surely have something to say about this. The Belen Jesuits are a lightweight crew that have been storming the lightweight season over in the States, coming 1st in LW8+ at the SRAA National Championships and a close 2nd in the USRowing Youth Nationals, the equivalent of NSR but on a grander scale, also in LW8+. To give an impression of how they scale to their heavyweight counterparts, they managed a 6th place finish at the Head of the Charles in Youth Eights – an incredibly impressive result for any crew – and by all accounts they are a much stronger sprint racing crew. I think this will be a really great race, and while Shawnigan will probably take the win, they should watch for the Belen Jesuits – lightweights often have a fast start, and a great deal of efficiency in the stroke – an efficiency that is tailored for the intense (and rather long) Henley race. However, for the purposes of this preview, Shawnigan will take the win.

 

Verdict: 1 length to Shawnigan Lake

 

Boston College High School, U.S.A. vs Winchester College

Boston College come over as one of the strongest US scholastic crews, and this is reflected in their results – 4th place in the Varsity Eights at the NEIRA Regatta and 2nd place at Marlow in IM1, behind SPS to name a couple – that render this crew as ‘one to watch’. They shouldn’t have much difficulty with Winchester here; Winchester haven’t really had a season to speak of as a senior squad, and this boat looks to be made up of both seniors and the strong Winchester J16 contingent that won a silver in J16 CH8+ this year. However, Boston aren’t a crew that are about to be beaten by J16s, however good those J16s happen to be, and they’ll take this race. The question is how far Boston can then go; it’s unfortunate that the next day they’ll have to race Shawnigan (I assume), because I don’t think they’ll manage to overcome that obstacle. However, they’re a good crew – indeed, they beat SPS in the Marlow time trial (although this was quickly reversed in the final) – and they should have a great deal of confidence going into the regatta.

 

Verdict: 4 lengths to Boston College High School

 

Saturday prediction

I think Saturday will be an all-British affair between the top four at NSR: Eton, Westminster, St Paul’s and Radley. In the top half of the draw, Eton and Westminster will have an incredibly tense duel that take a massive toll on both crews. I’m going to be incredibly bold with the prediction here, and suggest that Eton will take the win over the men in pink. While Westminster have been the form crew this year, it’s certainly not as if they’ve dominated like the Eton eights of 2009/2010 did, and there is a sense that Eton is building for a massive showing at Henley this year. If they can defeat Westminster on the Saturday, then I think it’s all to play for in the final.

St Paul’s are a really strong unit this year, and I think they’ll come out on top in a matchup with Radley. Thoughts of their 2013 exit on the Thursday as a seeded crew to the unseeded Radley will be playing in their minds, and I think they’ll use what will probably be fear of a Saturday exit to propel them to a finals spot.

 

I don’t feel I should be presumptuous enough to predict a winner – frankly, it feels artificial enough giving predictions for semi-finalists – so I’ll leave it at that. For now, I can only say good luck to all the crews racing at this most historic of regattas.

Five Man

Five Man