Reading University Head 2016 – Review

This year’s Reading University Head was hit hard by headwind, that grew much stronger from Division 1 to Division 2. With that in mind, it makes cross-comparison over divisions pretty difficult, but nonetheless the Head was pretty revealing about relative speed between some crews in the lead up to School’s Head.

J18 8+
As with many of these large heads with several non-Junior categories, the best of the junior eights at Reading Uni Head weren’t actually racing in the J18 category. With this in mind, it’s more interesting to look at the performances of junior crews in all the categories, and I’ll start by looking at the best-performing school, St Paul’s. SPS had two J18 eights racing; one in SEN, and the other in IM2. The 1st VIII was the fastest Junior Eight of the day despite the slower conditions of Division 2, and put a sizeable 25 second margin into Radley – positive for SPS, but something that may well unnerve Radley. The SPS 2nd VIII was the fastest 2nd VIII of the day, also in Division 2, and it looks like they’re benefiting from a few key athletes, including two guys who trialed up in Boston last weekend. I think the 2nd VIII category may well turn into a battle between the likes of Eton, SPS and Westminster. In any case, the results for the SPS senior squad were very encouraging. Also on good form were Shiplake College, whose 1st VIII in Division 1 beat Abingdon and Winchester by around 10 seconds – a handy margin considering Abingdon’s established position as a Champ Eight crew, and Winchester’s recent resurgence. Earlier in the season, I commented that Shiplake may see some very strong results this year, and certainly might try their hand in Champ Eights, and it looks as if this may well happen – they have good depth in the squad and some great athletes at the top end, including winners of Early IDs, Henry Blois-Brooke and Will Carey. I’m excited to see what Shiplake can produce this year, and if, perhaps, they can get close to the top end of Champ Eights. It’s worth mentioning Abingdon, here; they’ve clearly been struggling to find their speed after the loss of so many strong athletes from last year, and I think even with the might of Tom Digby it’ll be hard for Abingdon to rediscover past glories this year. They did beat Winchester, which is positive for the Abingdonians, as I do believe that Winchester could pose a threat come the Summer. Lastly, the performance from St Edward’s seems indicative of the same problem that Teddies suffered from last year. They’ve clearly got a positive base speed, but the depth in the squad just doesn’t seem to be enough to push them towards the heights that they were scaling back in 2013 and 2014. I’d like to see Teddies succeed this year, but I’m concerned that they just don’t quite have the manpower that they had in previous years. It’s early days, of course, and I think the Reading results seem to suggest it’s still a pretty tight contest – and there’s all to play for.

J18 4X
This event was won comfortably by Windsor Boys over Thames RC. Windsor are performing strongly this year as they did last year, with Harry Oliver at the helm as the key man at bow. Despite not being the biggest or strongest scullers, they have great power-to-weight and row technically very proficiently, and I think they have the potential to be a real force this year in junior men’s quads – although obviously it’s always an incredibly competitive event, and they’ll need to work very hard if they want to be in with a chance of, say, taking on the Fawley in the Summer. This is certainly a promising result for the boys – and it will probably leave Thames RC slightly nervous. They’ve seen some strong athletes in the past few years – guys like Oscar Bird who rowed in the 8+ in Rio last year – and this year they’ve got a few guys trialing, but it seems that as a crew they’re not quite living up to potential. It’s important for them to step on in the next few weeks in the buildup to School’s Head. Thames is a great club with some excellent facilities and access to accomplished coaches, so they’ve got a great deal at their disposal for the duration of the season. It’s worth mentioning that the Borlase top quad experienced some calamity that meant their strokeman wasn’t in the boat to finish the race, and it was left to the two Coupe returners, Ben Wright and Angus Bolton, and Henley winner Joe Wolfin, to take the boat across the line. This means that their speed is still very much ‘under wraps’, but their second quad performed very well to come 4th in the category, and with such experience in the top quad they surely won’t be pushovers. I think they’re still a quad that should be watched with some caution by the junior sculling scene.

J16 8+
SPS were by far the strongest J16 8+ across both Divisions. In Division 1, we saw Eton’s Colts racing in the J18 8+ category, and even with the much slower conditions that Division 2 brought, SPS still managed to beat their time. After their strong J15 season last year, where they won both School’s Head and NSR, I’d say Paul’s are definitely favorites going into School’s Head this year. The other competitors in the J16 category are all fairly middling crews; GMS performed well to come 2nd, but were a long way off St Paul’s pace. GMS will certainly be looking this year to improve on their 6th place finish in the J15 CH8+ final, and they’ll be acutely aware of the fact that historically Great Marlow crews have experienced a dropoff from J15 to J16, and particularly from J16 to senior. To really improve on last year, however, they’ll really need to try and close the gap on SPS.

WJ18 8+
In the girl’s eights, Headington dominated both Divisions, racing in W.SEN.8+ in Division 1, and finishing a good minute ahead of Sir William Borlase racing in W.IM2.8+, and in Division 2 Headington raced in W.ELI.8+, and finished 25 seconds ahead of the next fastest junior girl’s 8+, Marlow RC. Obviously this bodes incredibly well for Headington. To finish so strongly in both Divisions is quite a feat, particularly considering how difficult the conditions had become by Division 2, and they’re again looking like the form club for girl’s eights. They’ll have a fight on their hands with the likes of Henley later in the year, but I’d be surprised if anyone else really comes close to Headington, despite some rather surprising results earlier in the year where the girls hadn’t really seemed to find their form. Marlow RC took the top spot in the W.J18.8+ category, with Headington’s 2nd VIII in second place, highlighting the depth of the squad and the sheer experience these girls have rowing with each other in larger crew boats. Pangbourne were third, and they’ll really have to push on in the next few weeks if they’re going to try and see some positive results at School’s Head.

WJ18 4X
This was a very widely spread field, and was won confidently by Thames RC. These girls are strong racers and have been seeing a lot of improvement since last year, benefited by the inclusion of 2015’s very strong Thames J16 squad. Some members of the crew are already starting to filter into the GB circuit, and I fancy they’ll keep picking up speed as the year goes on and become a formidable unit by the Summer. They’re a young crew, still, and it’ll be tough to compete with some of the slightly more established crews in the category, which is always incredibly hard-fought – but with such a convincing win over the likes of Shrewsbury, I’d say it’s all to play for for Thames.

WJ16 8+
Only two entries here, and predictably, Headington won the category very comfortably over Pangbourne. It’s not a surprising result, and it certainly demonstrates the fact that Headington’s position at the top of the junior girl’s sweep scene is probably going to remain for the years to come.

Well done to all crews who raced!

Five Man

Five Man