Head of the River Fours 2015 – Review

This year’s Fuller’s Head of the River Fours was particularly memorable, not least due to the fact that much debate was had in the hours preceding the event as to whether or not it would actually go ahead – the wind was fierce and conditions were less than serviceable on the Tideway. However, contrary to the expectation of many, the event did proceed as planned, and we were treated to a day of hard racing and some fantastic wins – in one case, from a rather unexpected source.
This preview will look at the Junior events offered at Four’s Head, but I’ll make reference to junior crews entered in other categories for the purposes of the review.

This was always going to be pretty cut-and-dry, and Henley RC really performed to expectation here. They produced a really solid row given the conditions, and their time of 20:49 was comparable to the top few crews in the W IM1 4x category, so I’d say it’s an unbridled success for Henley here. They are continuing to show real dominance in Junior women’s rowing, and as we’ll see in the review of the WJun4+, this dominance crosses disciplines. What Henley have achieved to date is pretty remarkable, and it looks like they’re just going from strength to strength right now.
Second here went to Shiplake Vikings, as predicted. They had some real talent in the boat – the Orr sisters, who rowed at Home Countries, combined with Edwards and Tompson to produce a really high-quality quad and a solid piece.
Third place pretty much came out of nowhere, with Warrington taking the bronze-medal position over Headington’s top quad. Warrington did look pretty classy on the day, so in my opinion it’s unsurprising that they saw such a high finish, but nonetheless the club should be proud with how they finished and should look to continue to build on it through the season.
Latymer, whose other JW boat, the coxed four, scratched from the competition, didn’t really get into the mix with the top crews here, finishing a distant 6th. They’ll have to refocus and really work hard at closing the gap. I still fancy that these girls could be good come the Summer – it’s just a case of unlocking the potential.

After a couple of years of Sir William Borlase domination in junior quads, the field is finally blown open after the dramatic loss of three fantastic SWB scullers – Fraser Russell, Rufus Biggs and Chris Lawrie (who raced at Fours Head with Alan Campbell in the Tideway Sculler’s top boat – at stroke!). Moving swiftly in to fill the gap with a fantastic performance and a new record time for the event was Northwich RC, who, stroked by the internationally experienced George Lawton (M2x at Coupe in 2015), took the 38-boat category on, winning by 6 seconds. Added to this, their overall position of 16th is very high for a junior crew, and really establishes Northwich as possible contenders later in the year. They’ll certainly be a crew to keep eyes on.
Windsor Boys School came through for the 2nd place finish, and they’re showing real consistency as one of the top sculling schools in the country. They’ve got a wealth of strong scullers, particularly Harry Oliver, who raced in the quad at Coupe. They’re always there-or-thereabouts, and I’d like to see them really press for the top spot this year. They’ve come very close in recent years, and have certainly had their peaks and troughs – perhaps it’s finally time that Windsor Boys really entered the limelight in junior quads.
Claires Court put in a good performance to come third, although they’ll be irritated by the gap between them and Northwich – almost 10 seconds. They’re certainly a vocal crew, and it appears they’ve got a lot of fight and aggression – something that will be important come the Summer, where intensity and ferocity is paramount. Bringing this intensity to the table is Jonathan Cameron, who also represented GB at Coupe in 2015. He’ll be a strong presence in the sculling scene this year, and I fancy Claires Court will be too.
Shiplake in fourth put in a good row, and I think they’ve really got a strong shot at committing to Champ Eights this year. They’ve been performing pretty consistently in small boats thus far, and I’d suggest that small boat performance, even at this time of the year, is very much indicative of things to come – think of Westminster last year. Shiplake may just surprise a few come Summer.
It’s worth mentioning Borlase, who probably didn’t achieve the result they wanted on Saturday. With the loss of such key athletes, the Borlase top quad is bound to have lost some speed; but there are some strong scullers remaining – Joe Wolfin, who won Henley with the three leavers in 2015, as well as Bolton and Wright who both rowed in the 8+ at Coupe this year. I’d say that they have a lot more speed to come, and that it would be foolish to discount them over one bad race.

Henley continued its winning streak in the coxed fours, beating last year’s winners, Sir William Borlase, by a good 24 seconds. They’re really at the top of their game at this point, and to have rowers who can dominate both the sculling and sweeping scene is really special for the club.
Borlase performed strongly too, putting a lot of distance into LEH, but they were some way off Henley. They’ll really need to regroup and close the gap if they want to get anywhere near Henley in the winter/spring season; but Borlase do have some strong athletes in the boat, and I do think they’ll be much faster come the Summer.
LEH haven’t been performing that strongly thus far, so it’s good to see them come high up the rankings in such a well-attended and competitive event. They’ll have a lot of ground to make up, too, if they want to be within touching distance of either Borlase or Henley come the Summer – and that’s before you throw the other main players in the mix, like Headington, Pangbourne or St Edward’s. They could be strong, but they’ve got a hard winter ahead.

For me, the junior performance of the day goes to the St Paul’s coxed fours – indeed, while the junior coxed four entry demolished their category, as well as every other junior coxed four at Fours Head, St Paul’s 2nd four, entered in IM2 4+, was the 2nd fastest junior coxed four of the day – beating Abingdon’s first four, as well as both Hampton fours that appeared to have been drawn from their 1st VIII. This is clearly a fantastic result for St Paul’s, and after a slightly disappointing day at Pairs Head, where they failed to retain the Junior Pairs pennant, they’ve really bounced back here. Clearly they underwent a crew change, as the junior 4+ entry that actually raced was different to the one initially posted on the draw, but ultimately they came out with two very strong fours – one with two Worlds and two Coupe returners, as well as a Worlds cox, and the other with a Coupe returner and two GB France rowers. Clearly, these boys have a good amount of depth, and at the moment I’d say they’re the form club in junior sweep rowing.
Hampton School came away with 2nd, 32 seconds back on St Paul’s. The Hampton four looked clean, but perhaps bordering on languid – suggesting that Hampton will have more speed to come. They’ve no shortage of good athletes, and the junior coxed four had two Coupe representatives in the form of Jens Clausen and Dom Jackson, both great rowers in their own right. Coach Neil Double might, however, be concerned with the performance of the Hampton coxless four, with Worlds returner Chris Zahn, which performed slightly poorly in IM1 4- and only beat the time of the coxed four by a second. I’d suggest that these two fours were matched, but this result might indicate a lack of depth within the core of 1st VIII hopefuls at Hampton. They’ve got some work to do for the Summer; they had a bit of a lacklustre season last year, and its key that they use the winter season to prepare themselves for the hard racing in the Spring and Summer.
Shiplake took third, and as I stated previously in reviewing the quads, they’re looking like a strong club this year. I think with such a good capacity in both sweep and scull rowing, they should definitely be ones to watch. They might not have any ‘big names’ in the boats, but they’re got a lot of fight and this should stand them in good stead later in the season.
It’s worth noting that Abingdon were technically the third fastest junior coxed four behind the two SPS boats; obviously the might of Tom Digby does go some way, but I don’t think this will be enough for Abingdon this season. To lose to St Paul’s 2nd 4+ should be a real wake-up call for the top guys at Abingdon, who’ll have a big job motivating the guys coming into the senior squad and striving for the brilliance that we saw from Abingdon from 2011 to, really, 2014. There’s potential there – they’ve got strong ergo scores, and have a natural leader in Digby – they’ve just got to find some way of unlocking it, in time for the real racing in the Summer.

That concludes my preview. Well done to all crews for braving the conditions that the Tideway threw on Saturday – hopefully that’s the worst it gets for a race this season!

Five Man

Five Man