Wallingford Head of the River 2015 – J18 8+

What a tantalizing prospect – some of the finest sweep athletes in the country coming out to race in matched crews for the first time this season, and on the fantastically tricky, winding Wallingford course. Every year Wallingford Head throws up some great racing, although results often aren’t indicative of form later in the season. It’s still a good opportunity to get some racing in in the bigger sweep boats, and the fact that the event is populated mostly by matched eights means that we’ll see some 2nd VIII athletes getting great experience racing with 1st VIII athletes. Let’s get down to the preview.

St Paul’s School
St Paul’s have entered two matched eights here, and I’d assume that they’ll be aiming for a very high finish from both crews – particularly after they performed with some mediocrity at this event last year. St Paul’s aren’t necessarily known as a club with strength in depth, but this year, with such a strong contingent staying on from last year’s 1st and 2nd VIII and a host of strong J17s, some of whom represented GB at the Anglo-French match, coming in to fill the gaps, I’d say St Paul’s will see much more success in matched eights this year. While I won’t be bold and suggest they could take the first and second spots, they should certainly both be aiming for a top 5 finish.

St Edward’s School
Teddies have entered one matched eight in the J18 category, and another in the IM3 category, seemingly. Teddies will want to put in a very strong performance here; there are already whispers that this year will be the weakest that St Edward’s have seen for a good few years now, and they’ll be desperate to ensure that this isn’t the case. They’ve still retained some powerful athletes like Dave Wilcox, and some very technical oarsmen, and I hope that they can really get themselves together this year. Last year, Teddies were badly affected by injury and illness, meaning that they spent far too little time in their eight than they perhaps should have – they had a lot of returners from the crew that made the Henley final in 2014, but in 2015 they were simply unable to mount a serious challenge for the PE. With bigger depth, seemingly, this year, I think Teddies will be a stronger force, and one that could present a challenge this year. If they want to be taken seriously at this stage in the season, the J18 Teddies crew will have to push for the top 5 on Sunday.

Radley College
Judging by their early season form, I won’t hesitate to say that Radley look like they could be real contenders this year – and coaches around the junior rowing circuit already have seemingly caught onto this fact. In matched fours, Radley performed unprecedentedly well at the Head of the Charles – a clear indication of speed to come. They don’t have that many ‘big names’ in the crew after the loss of athletes like Charlie Elwes and James Newton, and they didn’t really acquit themselves fantastically at Early IDs, but Radley aren’t necessarily known as small-boat movers and therefore I’m not surprised by this result. The eights is where Radley shines, and I think they’ve got a good squad this year with a lot of depth. They’ll want to make a strong statement to St Paul’s early in the season – a defiant message that Radley are ones to watch. Top three for one of these crews.

Latymer Upper School
Latymer look to have entered a top four in J18 4+ judging by the presence of Phelps, who rowed at 7 in their 1st VIII last year. I’d suggest, then, that this eight racing on Sunday is the next best eight guys. Latymer are certainly not known for their depth – it’s been a while since they’ve had a functioning 2nd VIII – so this might be the year that they try and push for more boats in their senior squad. Considering the size of their squad, I’ve always felt that Latymer perform pretty well, so I think they should definitely be aiming for at least a top 10 finish.

King’s School Chester
One might remember that last year, King’s Chester put in a stonking performance at Wallingford Head in their two matched eights, showing themselves as a squad with a huge amount of depth. For a time, this piqued interest in the King’s Chester squad, until it was revealed that the reason, perhaps, for their fantastic success in matched eights was that there squad was so even – the 1st VIII wasn’t actually much faster than the 2nd VIII. While this was great for the 2nd VIII, it didn’t bode so well for the 1st VIII, and arguably they were the worst-performing Champ Eight of the year, despite some great athletes in the boat like Alex Slater and Harry Higginbottom. They’ll want to patch themselves up this year, but I would venture the suggestion that if they want a serious chance at taking the Champ Eight title then being very fast in a matched eight isn’t necessarily the best indication of this, as KCH proved last year. These crews will be strong, but I don’t think they’ll come close to matching what the KCH crews did last year at Wallingford – both should aim for the top 10, however.

St George’s College
This St George’s boat looks to be the 1st VIII – this fact alone should mean that these boys will produce a podium finish. St George’s had a decent season last year, and ended up just losing out on an ‘A’ final spot in the Child Beale Cup. They’re not the most accomplished 1st VIII out there, but they should be good enough to compete with the host of matched eights that are populating this event. The fact that they’ve fielded one eight does call into question the depth of the St George’s squad, and generally a good 1st VIII requires a good 2nd VIII too. Whether or not St George’s can field a real charge for the Child Beale this year, hinges on results at this stage in the season, so it’s important they establish themselves well here.

Reading Blue Coat
RBL are a strong presence in Child Beale, and were an A-finalist crew last year. They also are often fairly successful in matched eights; they manage to retain depth, even as a smaller rowing institution. These guys might surprise on Sunday; often, Champ Eight matched crews are surprised by the speed of some of these 1st Eight matched crews, which exhibit an unprecedented level of depth. They might be ones to watch on Sunday, but I wouldn’t put them near the podium.

The other crews in this category I don’t think can really feature; KCS have entered their 2nd VIII, which I can’t see challenging for a high finish, and Hampton have a 3rd VIII entered, which won’t have the pace.

It’s a hard one, but I’m going to go with St Paul’s School for 1st, St George’s College in 2nd and Radley College in 3rd.

Five Man

Five Man