Hampton Head 2016 – J16 8+

Hampton Head is, bar to a certain extent Quintin Head, the first matchup of the major head race season. While, on occasion, the category lacks depth as a result of the top athletes being snatched up into the senior squads, there is an adequate showing of some of the fastest crews from last season, finally back in the flagship sweep boat-class and contending one of the most serene 3000 metres on the Thames.

Hampton School (Davis)

While some crews like to keep their cards close to their chests in these early stages of the year, Hampton’s first eight in this age group have been fast out of the blocks this season, and keen to show it. They’ve established themselves with two strong second places at Wallingford Head and Quintin Head, to Great Marlow School and King’s College School respectively. Fortunately for them, neither of these crews are present on Saturday, and nor are the first crew from St Paul’s, who managed to prise the gold medal away from them at National Schools’ last season. In light of this, I’m putting this crew down for clear favourites, especially with the advantage of their own stretch.

Radley College

Radley, have taken the opposite approach to Hampton this season, to the extent where I can’t pin down a race that the J16 squad have attended which would provide an accurate reflection of what they can achieve on Saturday. However, this crew is obviously largely made up of the fourth placed J15 Championship Eight from last season. Like almost every other first boat at any level for Radley, this crew will be challenging the top echelons of the competition this season, starting with taking on Hampton on their home water. With a history of one of the strongest rowing programmes in the country, I can see them coming very close to Hampton on Saturday, even if they lack the home-water advantage and racing experience this year that Hampton will utilise against them.

Dulwich College (Wendler)

It would be fair to say that Dulwich had a disappointing season last year, starting with gold medals from the top category for J14s at National Schools’ Regatta, and ending with nothing to show from the second-tier category in J15 eights. However, this crew is striving to get back on terms with their old competition, and at Quintin Head they managed just that, securing a 0.2 second lead over the reigning champions the previous season: St Paul’s School. Dulwich will be looking to climb another rung on the ladder to their previous heights of success in this race, and they will need to be on top form to take on Hampton and Radley. I would be surprised if they found themselves ahead of Hampton on the results table, but they will definitely appear in a cluster with Radley and Hampton, producing a competitive time.

St George’s College

Like Radley, St George’s have not been seen out and about in their home boat class yet this season. However, their achievements last season are certainly worth mentioning. They succeeded in winning J15 1st Eights at NSR in one of the strongest fields seen in that category for a few years. In light of this, and obviously a strong programme judging from the relative speed shown by their senior eight last season, they’ll be biting at the heels of Dulwich College, although I think Dulwich may have the edge this time around.

On another part of the spectrum, Sir William Borlase and Reading Blue Coat, both National Schools’ non-qualifiers, will be having a tough battle with first eights from Hampton and Dulwich, and it will be interesting to see how the dynamics between the lower ends of first eights and the top end of second eights formulate this season.

1. Hampton School
2. Radley College
3. Dulwich College
4. St George’s College