Reading University Head 2016 – J18 8+

Reading University Head is great pre-School’s Head preparation; it’s a decently long race, where a good line is required, and generally holds a high standard of opposition – not just from junior crews, but seniors as well (last year, Oxford raced to a fine win). This year the event is well-populated with some accomplished crews, and the J18 category is no exception.

Now, it’s important to remember that across the two divisions some of the real contenders for the year are racing in other categories – Abingdon are entered into IM1, as are Shiplake; in IM2 we’ll see Shrewsbury and Radley, and St Paul’s will be making an appearance in SEN 8+. It’s worth mentioning that cross-division comparison is never particularly useful, as conditions are obviously subject to a lot of change throughout the day; but certainly the battle between Abingdon and some of the J18 crews will be interesting to watch in Division 1, and in Division 2, it will be quite a fight between the three powerhouse Championship Eights racing in different categories. However, this preview will focus primarily on the main players in the J18 8+ category:

Winchester College
Winchester’s 1st VIII will be going out on Saturday to make a strong statement to the more established 1st VIIIs. With a really positive performance at Hampton Head, and a good showing at trials – particularly from Tobias Shroder and Hugo Durward – these boys will want to really prove that they are a crew to watch this year. To do this, I think they’ll have to win J18 strongly, and probably beat Abingdon in the process. Indeed, they’ll be looking to come as close to the top of the whole of Division 1 as they possibly can – and I don’t think this is beyond them. Winchester are taking on the role of the new kids on the block – much as Westminster was last year. They are undoubtedly a threat to the established crews, and while they aren’t perhaps quite as strong or technical as the Westminster 1st VIII was last year, they are very accomplished for a young crew. They’ve got some international experience in the boat, with four of the guys having rowed at GB France, and one at Home Countries, and I think that they really could be a force to be reckoned with later in the year – if not pushing for the win, at least pushing for the minor medals in Ch8+.

Eton College
It’s quite difficult to tell exactly which boat this is that Eton have fielded. The entry is under ETN-1, which usually denotes the Etonian 1st VIII – or at least it has in past years. However, with their 1st VIII racing at Head of the Trent, I think this is probably a case of Eton entering both events, and picking and choosing which one they race depending on whether one is cancelled. I think if this is the case, they’ll likely race the Trent – it’s better practice for the School’s Head, and is historically frequented by Eton. However, if the Eton 1st VIII do show up, then I’d say the other boats entered in J18 are in trouble. Eton look like they might well be a force to be reckoned with this year. They aren’t great in pairs, as last weekend’s GB Trials demonstrated – although the top pair of Drinkall and Baring performed admirably – but they have some firepower, particularly in the form of David Bewicke-Copley, who has massively improved this year to the extent that he managed to soundly beat Junior World Champion Chris Lawrie at U23 trials at his own game – sculling. With Copley hitting some awe-inspiring scores on the ergo, and some talented J17s bringing a technical depth to the crew that wasn’t really present last year, I’d say Eton will be going for the top spot again. They ended last year on quite a low, with a Friday exit at Henley in a race that saw them really struggle to find their rhythm, and memories of the defeat will be burned into the minds of the returners. They’re definitely a crew to watch.

St Edward’s School
Teddies spent a good portion of last year really struggling to find their form. After a weak showing at School’s Head, their regatta season was plagued by illness and injury, and eventually they went out to St Paul’s on the Friday of Henley. This year, Teddies have the potential to be weaker than the 1st VIIIs of the past three years – however, I trust that they’ll be working even harder considering the loss of a lot of their best athletes – Sam Gillingham and Albert Mitchell to name two. They’ve got a lot of fight and spirit, and they mixed it fairly well with the top finishers at Hampton Head, coming close to Hampton themselves. I think that Teddies could surprise a few this year, and it’s races like Reading where they can begin to build their race record.

Latymer Upper School
Latymer have always been technically sound – last year they made up for a detriment of power with a decent style that generated some considerable power-per-stroke, and I’d say they’ll probably be doing the same this year. Their leading man at stroke, Tom Phelps, is a smooth athlete and he brings the experience to the boat. Watching them out on the Tideway, they certainly look like a crew that’s found its stride; they are confident, quick on the catch and row long. Whether they’ll have the power and experience to really push for the top of the Child Beale-standard crews remains to be seen. They’ll likely be racing the likes of KCS, LOS, Bedford and maybe even Shiplake, all very accomplished crews in their own right. Latymer will have quite a job mixing it at the top end of this category, but they’re in with a shout of a podium finish. I’d rate them over the likes of Reading Blue Coat, and given the number of 2nd VIIIs in this category, I think they could do pretty well here.

Aside from these four main crews, the event is populated by what looks to be Shiplake matched eights, all of which should be looking to perform well considering the resurgence Shiplake seem to currently be undergoing. Sir William Borlase have two eights entered, which may also be matched eights – they’ll want to put in a strong showing, but their focus still seems to be on the quad. One to watch will definitely be Reading Blue Coat – this seems to be their 1st VIII, and they’re a club that could have a strong year this year. Last year, they showed some decent speed, and they’ll want to build on it even in the early stages this year. They’ll be trying to get as close to the podium as possible.

I’m still very skeptical that the Eton 8+ entered is their 1st VIII – generally an Eton 1st VIII wouldn’t enter J18 eights in a race such as this anyway – and with that in mind, I’m predicting Winchester College for the win.

Five Man

Five Man