Wallingford Head of the River 2015 – J16 8+

For these J16s this will probably be the first race they’ve had in an eight this season, and it’s sure to be an exciting one. A tough course to navigate, Wallingford can present some serious challenges to any crew, and the coxes in this event will have to be on their toes if they want to put down a good time on Sunday. In any case, these are the crews I think will challenge for the top spot in the J16 8+ event.

Great Marlow School
Great Marlow have my backing for the win here, mostly because they seem to have entered their J16 A8+ into the category, rather than competing in matched eights. This might be an indication of lack of depth in the squad – which would be concerning, certainly, looking ahead to the Summer racing – but for now, it means that GMS should really take the win over the host of matched eights in this category. Last year, GMS put together a fine J15 Ch8+ that came 6th at NSR; this year, they’ll be striving to find more speed. GMS aren’t usually a Champ Eight school, so it would be good to see this contingent really try and buck the trend and establish themselves in the upper echelons of J16 rowing. Certainly, they’ve no paucity of strong guys, and this will serve them well on the long Wallingford course.

Norwich School
Norwich had a strong J15 1st VIII last year, and this appears to be the same eight that’s racing at Wallingford on Sunday. As it’s another 1st VIII, I’d suggest that it will probably beat the matched eights entered here; however, it will come under serious pressure from the likes of St Paul’s and Shrewsbury, and I don’t think it will have the speed to challenge GMS, particularly as it seems that these Norwich boys will be racing in fours in an earlier division. They should certainly have their sights firmly on 2nd place, and push GMS all the way for the win.

St Paul’s School
St Paul’s have two J16 matched eights entered at Wallingford; one in the Novice 8+ category under Dickinson, the strokeman of the NSR-winning J15 Ch8+, and the other is entered in J16 8+ under De Graaf, the 2-man of the same boat. The St Paul’s J15s were very strong last year, with a host of powerful athletes at the top end of the squad – these guys will make all the difference in the matched eights on Sunday. St Paul’s will want to put in a great result here to really establish themselves at the head of the pack early in the season. I expect them to do so. They’ve got fine pedigree and I think this boat will achieve a podium finish on Sunday.

Royal Shrewsbury School
Shrewsbury have two entries, amusingly named ‘Thunder’ and ‘Lightening’, and I’m sure they’ll have the St Paul’s matched eights in their sights. Their J15 Ch8+ was some way off St Paul’s at NSR, and their J15 B8+ was knocked out in the semi-finals (St Paul’s going on to win a silver); however, a great deal changes from the J15 to J16 year, even this early in the season – form dramatically improves, and with the onset of serious weightlifting, the strength of the athletes also increases substantially. Shrewsbury often find good speed at J16 level; they often have really powerful athletes, and are taught an explosive style, cultivated a few years ago in Shrewsbury’s 1st VIII, that ensures everyone is really moving off the front end together. While this can lead to a back-ended stroke and therefore a tendency to rush into the catch, it’s certainly a style that is easy for matched crews that haven’t rowed much together to adopt; it is also, however, taxing physically. Whether these crews can pull it off remains to be seen; if they can, however, I’d say Shrewsbury could see some good results at this stage of the season.

Sir William Borlase
Borlase didn’t really have a J15 showing last year, so it’s surprising to see them able to field two J16 eights straight off the cuff. One might remember how two years ago Borlase put together a great J16 A8+ that managed a bronze at SHORR, coming out of nowhere to do so; while my instincts tell me that this won’t happen again this year, you can never discount the possibility. Borlase a fantastic program that is steadily growing stronger in terms of bringing up sweep rowers, and I think in a few years Borlase could be a program to challenge the big-name public schools in the eights. For now, however, I don’t think Borlase will have the depth of squad, and while they might have some stellar athletes who will undoubtedly show their faces later in the season – think Joe Wolfin last year, who ended up winning Henley in the Borlase quad as a J16 – I can’t imagine they’ll put together a serious challenge on Sunday.

Wallingford RC will be racing on home water, which will undoubtedly be a big advantage, as steering is so important – so never discount them. I don’t, however, think that by the merit of the crew alone they’ll be able to tackle some of these other crews. City of Bristol RC I confess I know little about; they had some strong J15 scullers last year, who put a good quad together at NSR, but whether this speed will translate in an eight remains to be seen. It’s not a particularly well-known program for juniors, but it would be good to see it coming up in the next few years. Perhaps these J16s will be an integral part of this.

It’s tough to call with so many matched eights, but as Great Marlow School has entered a 1st VIII I’ll have to go with them for the win. 2nd will go to Norwich School, and 3rd to St Paul’s School.

Good luck to all crews!

Five Man

Five Man