Oarsport Junior Sculling Head 2016 – J184X

The Oarsport Junior Sculling Head is fast becoming the flagship head of river for the prospective Fawley Challenge Cup crews, with a far stronger entry than the Schools Head of River, the 3600m time trial will no doubt provide an excellent insight into which crews will be competitive come regatta season. Clearly, as this event is divided in to two legs of 1800 metres, the most successful crews will be those that are able to find a consistently efficient rhythm across the lengths that remains aggressive enough to find the speed required to compete at the top end. Given the fantastic entry it will certainly be an exciting race, and the results will certainly be very telling as to how the season plays out.

Sir William Borlase
As last year’s winners by a comfortable twelve seconds ahead of Pangbourne, Borlase are first off this year. Clearly however, the Marlow based School have lost an absolutely exceptional generation of athletes, with Chris Lawrie, Fraser Russell and Rufus Biggs all departing, along with coach Robin Dowell. This has clearly left a lasting impact at Borlase, who have struggled to hit anything like the form they had last season with results such as 11th at Hampton, and 5th at the Fours Head not exactly inspiring confidence. Despite this it would be naïve to write them off, returning Henley winner Joe Wolfin is clearly a talent when it comes to driving a crew with his pure physical prowess, Angus Bolton and Ben Wright return from last season’s eight, and both represented Great Britain at the Coupe De La Jeunesse. Clearly the talent is there, it just remains to be seen as to whether these individuals have what it takes to maintain the schools status as at the pinnacle of junior sculling clubs.

Northwich Rowing Club
Northwich are certainly the form crew of junior sculling at the moment, with relatively comfortable wins at both the Fours Head and Hampton Head of River so far, Northwich definitely have the wind in their sails. Driven by the very experienced George Lawton, who was in the top British sculling boat at the Coupe last season, it is fair to say that Northwich will be very excited by the prospect of this regatta season. As a club they have consistently been on the podium in the CH4X behind Borlase, so naturally I would expect to an attempt to employ some revenge as the season develops. This will also be the first time Northwich come up against a very exciting Glasgow crew that at present seem to be shrouded in mystery, and no doubt the result here will be indicative of how the regatta season develops.

Glasgow School’s Rowing Association
Very little seems to be known about the Glasgow School’s Rowing Association, as clearly it was the Glasgow Academy that world champions Josh Armstrong and Gavin Horsburgh raced for in the Fawley Challenge Cup last season, being knocked out in a spectacular race against Borlase. What does seem to be known is that this ‘Association’ comprises of multiple schools across the Glasgow region, and will include Josh Armstrong as well as other talented juniors a few of which will be racing the at the spring assessment trials coming up. Controversially however these scullers appear to have come from schools and clubs that already row, essentially rendering this crew a composite rowing under the ‘Glasgow School’s Rowing Association’ name. As a result of this it is clear is that this crew has the potential to be extremely fast, and they will no doubt go into the Sculling Head looking to challenge the likes of Northwich, and potentially take a victory.

Marlow Rowing Club
Marlow are certainly a club with potential to be really competitive this season, with Ben Simon being the standout athlete within the trialling system. They will be looking to make up for a poor performance in the quad at Hampton in which they came in at 9th, though with Simon’s strength a good result is definitely in the realms of possibility. Depth is clearly not the issue here, as in the previous season Marlow were able to achieve GB France representation in the J164X, so whether or not a good result is in order will be down to whether or no they have made the technical progression necessary to compete at the top level.

Leander Club
Leander’s junior system consistently builds excellent crews with a high level of depth, but this season have yet to really make their mark. A disappointing 8th place finish at the Fours Head saw Leander lagging behind the crews they would like to be competing with come regatta season. Clearly talented individuals such as Tom Mortimer and Cameron Forsythe, who have achieved multiple medals at a national level before will be looking to assert their influence here and drive their crew to a solid result. Naturally they will see this as an opportunity to undo their sluggish start to the season by posting a strong result and they will be going into the Sculling Head looking for a podium finish at the very minimum.

Windsor Boys’ School
A crew that has been relatively inconsistent but clearly has the quality required to perform at the top level, Windsor posted an exciting second place Fours Head and won the Reading University Head by a huge margin. Clearly not the most powerful crew, Windsor will look to really take advantage of their technical proficiency by settling into a punchy rhythm, drawing from the vastly experienced Coupe athlete Harry Oliver. Whilst perhaps not the favourites to take gold, Windsor will definitely be disappointed with anything less than a podium finish here, and they will look to carry momentum into the regatta season.

Pangbourne College
Last year’s silver medallists, and a school more known for their ability in sweep than in sculling, Pangbourne were able to produce an extremely fast quad last season. The loss of Luke Towers will no doubt have hit them hard, but Rory Harris is a very capable sculler that has a wealth of both domestic and international experience so I would expect a strong showing here. A podium finish might be just about out of reach, but I would expect a strong performance.

Maidenhead Rowing Club
It will be interesting to see how a full strength Maidenhead crew matches up with this packed field. Whilst still a very young crew, Viktor Kleshnev continues to punch well above his weight in the single, matching scullers with experience far outstripping his own at various sets of trials. Sean O’Mahoney is also developing very well in the single, taking silver in the J161X at last year’s National Schools. As a quad success has been more limited, though an excellent 2nd place behind Northwich at Hampton shows that Maidenhead aren’t to be overlooked, and may even have an outside chance at taking home a medal.

Kings School Worcester
Worcester are certainly rising up the ranks in junior sculling, with their 2014/16 quad achieving gold at National Schools in the J164X. Clearly this displays a physical and technical aptitude that will allow for a strong performance on Friday. A lack of experience might be their downfall however, rendering a podium finish just about out of reach. Despite this Worcester are definitely a school to watch for the future.

RGS High Wycombe
RGS High Wycombe are another school on the rise, and have been for a number of years. A virtually unbeaten 2013/14 season as J16’s has led to a strong junior squad, matching both technical proficiency with a decent level of physical prowess. They came very close to Windsor Boys at Hampton and they will look to carry this from into the Sculling Head. Despite this, I believe they lack the top end individual athletes to be truly competitive at the top end of elite sculling, so a podium finish might be just out of reach.

Dart Totnes
Dart Totnes are not a club particularly known for being competitive in junior crew boats, but have produced an outstanding individual athlete in Matt Swiss. Matt competed at the Junior World Championship’s earlier in the year, and whilst clearly depth may be an issue for the club, having an athlete of his ability in the crew will certainly stand them in good stead.

As the form crew going into this event, Northwich will go into this event as favourites to take gold. Glasgow also have to be considered potential favourites though given the fact that they are an unknown quantity, it’s hard to assume that they have what it takes to beat the Fours Head pennant winners. The bronze medal could go to a number of clubs, though I would expect Leander to be the most likely to take it, given that they have a physically impressive, and technically proficient crew that will be looking to make up for a relatively slow start to the season.

Mr T