Schools’ Head 2016 – 2nd 8+

The standard of school second eights is steadily increasing, year on year, and this year I believe could represent a peak thus far. While often this category is dominated by a single school with tremendous depth – generally Eton – this year, the top end of the category is very competitive and the result could fall a number of ways. This preview will briefly examine who I believe will be the top performers in the 2nd 8+ category on Thursday.

Eton College
Eton look to be a real force this year across their entire senior squad. They are benefiting hugely from the introduction of last year’s J16 crew, and it appears obvious that Eton will have another year of a spread of success across their whole senior squad. Their results at Head of the Trent, where this crew came home very close to Kings Chester’s 1st VIII, suggests that they’ve got good speed and fitness to call on for School’s Head. It’s also impossible to ignore Eton’s pedigree in this category. In the past few years, Eton have been a real force in the 2nd 8+ category, a clear indication of the depth of the Etonian program. I think undeniably they take the position of favourites this year, but they’ll be hard pressed by two other strong crews.

Westminster School
One of the crews that will be on the hunt to take the title from Eton will be Westminster. Westminster are in the unlikely position of having a small squad that is packed with great oarsmen. Generally the size of a squad is proportional to the performances of the top boats, but Westminster defy this with a concentration of accomplished athletes. This is the first 2nd 8+ that Westminster have fielded for some time at Schools’ Head, and they’ll be looking to make a mark. Tellingly, they’ve got guys in the boat who’ve already proved their worth at GB Trials – a rarity for 2nd 8+ oarsmen – and they have a good balance between technicians and engine rooms. With the talented Alex Williams at 6 holding the unit together, I think they’ll be posing the most serious challenge to Eton, and I’d go as far as to say they look like with a good row they could convincingly take the win. With strong results at Hampton spurring them onwards, the Westminster 2nd 8+ will be a crew to watch.

St Paul’s School
A St Paul’s 2nd 8+ is often somewhat lacklustre, considering the number of athletes that SPS has on its roster. This year, there seems to be a change brewing. The St Paul’s 2nd 8+ is looking truly competitive, and features a breadth of athlete that suggests they’ll be a contender on Thursday. They’ve got Tideway experience, and look technically very efficient, which will serve them well over the long headwind-plagued course. They saw a great result at Reading University Head, where they firmly established themselves as the fastest competing junior 2nd 8+, and some of the guys in the boat have already been making the rounds at GB Trials. The question is whether they have the consistency of athlete to take the top spot; it’s an issue that’s often hampered SPS second eights in the past. This year, I think they’ve made a significant step towards freeing themselves from this limitation, with an eight that will not only look to improve upon the 5th place position of last year, but to win the event outright.

Radley College
Radley are always a there-or-thereabouts crew within the 2nd 8+ circuit, and while they sometimes show some good speed, I don’t think they’ll have the strength to mix it this year. With some of the top athletes in the 1st VIII having moved on to university, Radley may possibly be experiencing a detriment of standout athletes – something that will undoubtedly hit the 2nd 8+ hard. It’s rather telling that Radley were so far off St Paul’s pace at Reading Uni Head – considering that last year Radley trumped St Paul’s at Schools’ Head, it shows how drastically things have changed in a year. Radley will certainly be aiming for the top 5, and I think that they’ll achieve this, but beyond that, I think Radley might struggle.

Hampton School
Hampton are another club that historically have depth enough to field very competitive second eights. Hampton always finish towards the top end of the NSR medal table as a result of their obvious depth, and this shows no sign of changing. Indeed, the only thing that has changed is that I believe this category has dramatically moved on from last year, with the introduction of the top three that I’ve already previewed. Hampton benefit from their technical focus and rhythm, but are often found lacking in the power department. I think this will hit them harder this year, considering the strength of some of the crews entered in this category. They’ve already found themselves somewhat off the pace of the likes of Westminster, demonstrated by the Brugge Boat Race in Belgium, and I think they’ll find themselves out of the fight for medals.

Shrewsbury School
Shrewsbury have a good squad this year – a solid group of oarsmen with a good balance between technique and power. They don’t have any superstars – or at least, not yet – and their ergo performances, at least from their trialists, don’t suggest that they’re the most powerful squad competing. However, they’re a squad with a good degree of fight – something that’s inherently difficult to coach – and this will serve all the Shrewsbury crews well on the School’s Head course. In the 2nd 8+ category, I don’t think that Shrewsbury have the personnel to fight it out for a medal position; I do think they have the potential to make top 5, however, and with a strong row they’ll be looking to get ahead of the likes of Hampton.

Shiplake are shaping up to be the dark horses of this season. Their 1st VIII has particularly been showing some very strong results, and this seems to have spurred on the Shiplake 2nd VIII to some very positive results at races such as Reading Uni Head. Shiplake aren’t necessarily known for their strength in depth, but times appear to be changing, ushering in a new and more positive era of Shiplake rowing. I think their 2nd VIII could really surprise people on Thursday. While I don’t think it will get close to the top 3, I can definitely see it trumping some of the more established schoolboy crews – maybe even the likes of Hampton – but whether they have the experience and solidity to deal with the tough distance and undoubtedly tricky conditions remains to be seen.

Other crews to watch
There are some other strong crews littered through this category. London Oratory School has the potential to be a real giant-killer on Thursday; they’ve managed to put together a very strong senior squad and their results at Hampton Head suggest that they’ve got the potential to be a strong contender in this category. Abingdon School always field a competent 2nd VIII, although their senior squad is lacking the same depth that they had last year, and King’s Chester appear to be suffering from the same problem. The sheer size of the programs at these schools should be enough, however, to ensure these crews are tidy and competitive.

I think Westminster School will take the win; they’ve been looking incredibly strong in training and are undeniably quick. There’ll be a very short gap back to Eton College, and an even shorter gap to St Paul’s School. Ultimately, the top three will be a very close and hard-fought contest.

Good luck to all crews!
Five Man

Five Man