Hampton Head 2016 – J18 8+

Hampton Head, as an event exclusive to juniors and therefore teeming with junior crews, never fails to offer close competition. This year looks to be no exception. The J18 eight is arguably the most interesting event of the day as it offers an early gauge of the contenders for the biggest prize in schoolboy sweep: the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup.

All of the eights fighting for the pennant are setting off in the afternoon division, the weather forecast for which- high wind and rain- will leave the rowers happy they aren’t in a smaller boat.

Westminster, who barely need an introduction, took the headship last year by a large margin, a victory that set them well for the rest of their season. Their squad was very strong last season and is largely unchanged, with only several members of their top eight having left the school. Strong results at the Head of the Charles last October alongside good performances from certain squad members in the GB trials process cement Westminster as strong favourites to win the pennant again this year.

Hampton have a great home water advantage this weekend, something they will surely capitalise on. This time last year they entered apparently matched eights; I believe that they are fielding their strongest eight this time round. This certainly isn’t their Last Chance Saloon, but rather the start of what could be a good season for them. Off the back of a good performance at Wallingford last November, I think this crew could really challenge for the top place.

Radley College were over 20s behind Hampton at Wallingford, but I have no doubt that the recent inclement weather has given them good use of their rowing tank- a luxury that many clubs can only dream of- and that they will consequently have sharper technique than most of the crews on the river this weekend. Whether they will have closed on Hampton will be interesting to see.

Winchester College look to have a classy outfit this year. Mainly composed of their strong J16CH8+ from last year, their first eight posted the second quickest time for a junior crew at Wallingford, only 0.2 seconds behind a crew from St Paul’s. I think a top three position is well within the grasps of this crew. It will be interesting to see whether the school adopt to field a crew in the CH8+ category later in the year.

Latymer Upper School had a good season last year. We haven’t seen much of them so far this season, aside from a good row at Wallingford. I imagine they will be a well-drilled crew and I expect them to be challenging the lower end of the champ eight boats.

St Edward’s School had a decent result at Wallingford, but look like they may be in a similar position to last year, near the bottom end of the Championship Eight group, if indeed they continue to compete at that level. A top 5 finish would be a good result from this crew.

At Quintin Head earlier this year, Kingston Grammar School, Dulwich College, Reading Blue Coat School and Bedford Modern School all finished within around 10 seconds of each other, in that order. These traditionally ‘Child Beale’ clubs will look to improve their relative rankings this weekend and see how their speed compares to other like schools such as Canford and King’s Canterbury. I don’t see any of these schools breaking into the top five, but there’s still all to play for!

My prediction:

1) Westminster
2) Hampton
3) Winchester

Best of luck to all crews!