Schools’ Head 2016 – 1st 8+

Held over one of the most notoriously gruelling and unpredictable courses in the country, the first of the “big three” events of the season looks to be one of the most competitive in many years for the School First Eights category. This particular category is similarly unpredictable from year to year, as there are huge fluctuations in the quality of schools with less athletes from year to year, and this year we may see the rise of schools who would not usually be seen in the higher tiers of this popular event.

King’s College School, Wimbledon

Having raced in the Championship category in the past, it is expected of King’s Wimbledon that they make up the crème de la crème of the first eight category. They proved that they could fulfil this role when they won silver in the Child Beale cup at Nat schools last summer and based on their results this season, they look to be on course to replicate such success. They placed second at Quintin Head in January and had a good row in the IM2 category at Reading University Head. KCS also call the Tideway home, a useful advantage.

Latymer Upper School

A technically proficient crew that will be racing on home water on Thursday, Latymer should show good speed. They performed strongly at Hampton to finish 8th in J18 8+, however, I don’t think they will have been wholly satisfied with this result and will have upped their training since. Latymer have performed well at Schools’ Head in the past but may find the competition stronger than in previous years this time round.

Sir William Borlase Grammar School

There isn’t much to say about this crew in terms of performance this season, but we can assume that most of their crew will be returners from their eight that finished second in this event last season. The fact that they have no quads entered confirms that they will definitely be prioritising their eight this season, and they should definitely be a stronger unit as a result. I’d expect them to finish ahead of Latymer, but without a huge amount of racing experience in this crew since last year, I wouldn’t expect them to be imposing on the top crews in this event.

Bedford School

Bedford are consistently near the top of the first eight category and I don’t see that changing much this year. They have a strong squad as shown by their good results at Reading Uni Head and Bedford Fours and Eights Head. What’s more, their new long distance training stretch at Earith will have given them the legs to tackle the 6.8km stretch of Tideway.

Reading Blue Coat School

Reading Blue Coat School’s season has been fairly unexceptional and standard thus far. They scraped into the top half of their categories at both Wallingford Head and Quintin Head, and looking at their seventh placing in the category last season, this looks like a very similar standard. The 20 second lead that Kingston Grammar held them at over the RUBC Head course may have raised some alarm bells for them, but I would tip this more significantly to a raise in standard from their rival, rather than a reflection on their performance falling. I would expect them to be excluded from the top 5 spots in this event, but a top 10 finish would be in line with the pace that they have displayed this season.

Kingston Grammar School

Last season, unlike Norwich have this year, Kingston Grammar weren’t quite able to keep up with the steep curve of J16 first eights standard to the senior category. Missing out on qualification for Henley Royal Regatta last season will have been fairly soul-crushing for them, but it would be fair to say that they have picked themselves up well. Their Hampton Head result of 9th out of 16 wasn’t too big a jump from Latymer Upper and King’s Canterbury, and the enormous margin that they opened up on Reading Blue Coat and Dulwich at RUBC Head will be incredibly heartening for them. There is also clearly a good level of individual talent in the boat, with Lucas Hiller pulling a very respectable ergo at the British Indoor Rowing Championships, and attending GB trials with crew-mate Laurence Milward. I have no doubt that their performance will have come on a long way since their eighth place finish last season.

Bedford Modern School

Bedford Modern usually bring up the front of the middle range of this event, and this season looks to be no exception. They’ve shown a good degree of consistency over the season, with 6th of 9 at Quintin Head and 12th of 16 at Hampton Head, and as with Kingston Grammar, they have some relatively big ergos in the boat (namely Alex Ventisei and Sam Kavanagh being within the 6:35 mark at BRIC). While they’ll have been disappointed with their Bedford Head result, being beaten by local rivals Norwich School and Bedford School, I think they’re in for a decent performance this year, and if they race well they may well be in for a top ten placing in the category.

London Oratory School

LOS look to be strong contenders in the first eight category this year, having placed 6th at Hampton Head and won three pennants in J18 sweep categories at Hammersmith Head. They are clearly starting to make their USP boat sing and their familiarity with the Tideway will stand them in good stead for the race on Thursday.

King’s Canterbury

King’s School Canterbury are looking like one of the strongest crews coming into this event, and this should not come as much of a surprise considering that they have a number of returners from their gold medal winning four from last season. Although Schools’ Head will be their first tideway head of the season, a factor that may be to their detriment, their tight lead over Latymer Upper (1st eights SHORR winners last year) at Hampton Head should rightly provide them with the confidence to come in at the very top end of the category. Over the more Schools’ Head-like 5000 metre course at Head of the Trent, they faced off against the likes of Eton and King’s Chester, and 15 seconds wasn’t bad margin from the latter by any means, which shows that they can definitely sustain their pace over the time needed. This is one of the best crews Kings Canterbury have seen in recent years, and their Schools’ Head result should reflect this form.

Winchester College

Winchester are really a crew to watch this season. Their very successful J16Ch8+ constitutes most of the crew that will race on Thursday with a strong chance of taking home the first eight pennant. Their results so far this year have been very strong; a win in J18 8+ at Reading University Head and a third place at Hampton Head to name a few. Winchester also had some very encouraging results in smaller boats at the most recent GB assessments in Boston demonstrating good boat moving skills over a long distance and in tricky conditions; this bodes well for their chances over the tiring and unpredictable Schools’ head course. There may be a question raised over whether Winchester should be racing in the Championship category; I understand that the crewmembers are keen to do so and I think we may see them shift for the regatta season, especially if they fulfil their potential on Thursday. They’ve certainly got a wealth of strong athletes in the boat, and there are a few up-and-coming GB stars in the mix. Frankly, I’d be surprised if they weren’t racing in the Championship category by the end of the year.

Dulwich College

This mostly J17 crew has been through some turbulence over the last couple of seasons, often milling around championship standard for their age group for the head race season, but then not holding this pace through to regatta season. This season however, they’ve been struggling to keep up with the regular first eight crews. They’ve been duelling with Reading Blue Coat at the events that they have both attended, coming a place apart at RUBC and Quintin Heads. It would be reasonable to assume that they’re looking at a very similar result to the aforementioned crew, although the home-water advantage will likely give Dulwich the edge needed to secure a final victory over Blue Coat in the head season.

Norwich School

Norwich School haven’t traditionally challenged the top ends of the 1st eights category, but that looks to be changing considering a strong showing in both the J15 and J16 categories at National Schools’ Regatta last season. This J17-centric crew has continued their form from last season surprisingly well, especially considering the fact that the J16 category was severely devoid of boats by the end of last season. Their most notable results have included a 7th place out of 20 at Fours Head back in November, 9th of 15 at Wallingford Head, and an unexpected 5 second lead of Bedford School at Bedford Head. While I wouldn’t expect to see them in the top five crews here, this crew is definitely one to watch over the next two seasons, considering their relatively high performance now and how many returning athletes there will be next year.

Windsor Boys’ School

It is good to see Windsor Boys’ School fielding a first eight as they have mostly been focused on sculling in recent years. Even more pleasing is to see them get some good results in the sweep scene, including 11th at Hampton and 3rd at Reading Uni Head. With a good row, I think these guys could really show up some more established sweep institutions.

Hightide’s prediction
1. Winchester College
2. King’s College School
3. London Oratory School

Hightide and Kingcrab