Head of the River Fours 2015 – Jun4+

The prospect of racing a coxed four for the best part of 20 minutes down the Tideway is a daunting prospect for many junior rowers, especially for those not accustomed to the ‘lively’ conditions that the big stretch of Thames can throw up.
However, this is exactly the challenge that all those entered in this category will face on Saturday. The consolation, however, lies in the promised reward for the winners: a prize giving ceremony like no other in the Fuller’s brewery accompanied by the welcome knowledge that you are at the top of the junior game. There are 23 crews entered in this category, I will examine the crews that I think will be likely to challenge for the top 5 places.

Setting of first, and looking for a third consecutive win in this category, will be St. Paul’s School. Four members of this crew were in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup winning eight in July, three of which- Alfred Jacquemot, Bertie Woodward-Fisher and Seb Benzecry- represented Great Britain at the Coupe de la Jeunesse in the summer whilst the fourth, coxswain Vlad Saigu, represented GB in the coxed four at the Junior World Championships. The final member of the crew is Stephen Mitchell, who was in a strong St Paul’s 2nd 8+ last year and, alongside the rest of this crew, formed part of the St Paul’s eight that came fourth in Youth Eights at the Head of the Charles, behind some strong American crews several weeks ago. St Paul’s have had a strong start to the season, with some good results at the Pairs Head and a win in High School Fours at the Head of the Schuykill. Given the calibre of this crew and the fact that they are racing on their home stomping ground, these guys start as strong favourites.

Also in strong contention are Royal Shrewsbury School. Finishing in 15th place, some 25s off St Paul’s, at the Head of the Charles, this club are in a strong position at the start of this year, a fact which was also evidenced earlier in the season by some good results at Pairs Head. Three of the crew- George, Rowley and Shiels- were part of Shrewsbury’s CH8+ last season, and George represented Wales at the Home International Regatta. I don’t think that Shrewsbury will be at St Paul’s level this weekend, but they should still be fast, and a top 5 place is well within their grasp.

Fresh from their training camp in Temple-sur-Lot, I expect that Hampton School will also be quick. On board, they have two GB Coupe representatives in the form of Dom Jackson and Jens Clausen, and the experience of these two guys will undoubtedly prove of great value in the latter stages of the race. Hampton are always technically very sound, but often suffer from a lack of power, and judging from the recently released 2k rate 24 scores, this might be the case again, if they’re not careful. It’s important that Hampton meets this challenge head-on if they want to really get in the mix with the top junior crews in the country this year.

The King’s College School Wimbledon crew is largely comprised of the stern four of their Head of the Charles eight, which placed 20th in Boston. These rowers also placed a credible seventh in the High School Fours category at the Head of the Schuykill and were all part of the silver medal winning Child Beale 8+ at NSR in May and so I fancy that this crew will show good speed this weekend. They’re very well drilled under the watchful eye of Patrick Duggan, who’s been pretty instrumental in putting together the GB Junior Worlds Squad, coaching the pair in 2015; he’s not short of experience, and these guys will be looking to put in a strong showing on Saturday.

Radley College appear to have entered matched coxed fours, with the other in the IM2 category, as they did at the Head of the Charles, where they came 5th and 7th in the Youth Fours event. This demonstrates good depth in the Radley squad, which bodes well for the rest of their season. I expect that all the training they have done in Fours will prove useful come Saturday, and that this crew will show good speed, perhaps even enough to challenge for a top 3 place. Indeed, on reflection, their result at the Charles was pretty fantastic, given that even the Westminster four (admittedly the bottom half of their 1st VIII) couldn’t break into the top 10). Radley may well be a force to be reckoned with this year – watch out for these guys on Sunday.

Latymer Upper School will be on home water- an advantage that cannot be underestimated- and appear to have a fairly strong crew, including three returners from their bronze medal winning Child Beale eight. Who knows, the fraternal connection of the ‘Phelps’ stern pair may add a remarkable synergy to the boat- I wouldn’t put it past members of such a well established rowing family! They’ll be looking to right some wrongs of last year, and this race will be an important start for them, after their season began so promisingly last season and then rather dramatically fizzled out.

Also worth mentioning are Kingston Grammar School and Sir William Borlase GS, who had reasonably strong 1st 8s last year, members of which are in their crews for the weekend. The former is coxed by Will Burden, who represented England at the Home International Regatta in July; his experience will add a great deal to their speed. The Dulwich, Shiplake and Norwich crews are largely comprised of J17s, all of which had fairly successful seasons as J16s last year, and so I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or more of these boats pushing the more established ones mentioned above. Abingdon have not had a sensational start to the season, finishing 18th and 28th in High School eights at the Head of the Schuykill and given that this does not appear to be their top boat at the event (which is entered IM1), I don’t think they will pose as much of a threat as their reputation may generally lead one to believe.

My Prediction:
St Paul’s for the win!

Good luck to all crews!