Wallingford Regatta 2016- Junior/School Eights

The Junior A Eights event at Wallingford Regatta always provides a fantastic quality of competition, and sets itself apart from National Schools’ Regatta with a lack of distinction between Child Beale and Championship Crews; the next time we will see these kinds of match ups will be at Henley Royal Regatta in July. I’ll look at the races heat by heat, and then there will be a prediction for the finalist and placings.

Heat 1

There is no doubt in my mind that this will be the most competitive heat of the bunch, as it will be pitting four of the seven fastest crews in the country against each other. While any one of Abingdon School, Hampton School, Shiplake College and Eton could all be on the cards for a win in this heat, I think at the line it will come down to Eton and Shiplake. Eton have shown similar speed to that of last season in the early months of this year, achieving a fourth place finish at School’s Head. Their depth can also be seen in the two athletes they have representing Great Britain at Munich International next week, second only in numbers to St Pauls’s and Westminster. However, they eyes of the junior rowing world are set on Shiplake for this race. I think it can be agreed that it was a shock to the system and a colossal upset to the established order when it was revealed that this crew had come joint second with St Paul’s at Schools’ Head; the second year in a row that the outsiders have had a meteoric rise. It is far too close to call between these two crews in terms of who will win the heat, but if I have to go one way I’ll tip it toward Eton, as they are simply more experienced in terms of this class of competition. It will be a blisteringly fast race, and I suspect that will follow through to the final regardless of the outcome.

Heat 2

After the inevitable nail-biting drama of the first heat, the second heat promises to be a more gentle affair. While Bedford School will be eager to prove themselves as contenders for a medal in the Child Beale after a turbulent start to their season, the real race here will be between Winchester College and Radley College: again a race of the established order against the newcomers. Radley have been a little off the Championship pace this season, only just managing to stay in front of the fastest first eight. This is perhaps unsurprising when we consider the loss of some key athletes, namely Charles Elwes. Despite this, they will still be offering up some strong competition at this point in the season, and they peaked with a semi final placing at Henley in 2015. Winchester have had a phenomenal season so far for a school that doesn’t usually tread around this high end of the field. Their early speed could be seen in their silver medal at Head of the Schuylkill in the USA in October, and they followed this up with a victory in the First Eights category at Schools’ Head. There was much question raised as to whether they should be in the Championship categories, having raced for that title competitively in their J16 and J15 years, and I expect the that decision will probably be determined by the outcome of this race. Regardless, they will give Radley a run for their money, and I would expect both crews to find a place in the final.

Heat 3

With respect to all other crews in this heat, this race is a one-on-one grudge match between St Paul’s and Westminster. The two crews have been bitter rivals since their epic showdown at Henley last season, where Westminster’s hopes of winning the prestigious “triple” were dashed as St Paul’s added salt to the wound with a two length lead coming into the enclosures. This season has seen similarly epic match-ups, with Westminster again taking the head at Schools’ Head despite not being favourites in the days leading up to it. The crews are incredibly well matched in terms of their individual athletes, with both sending four athletes to Munich International Regatta, although I see Westminster as having an edge in this field as two of these crew members have been selected as scullers; a key sign of technical proficiency. I would tip this race towards Westminster partially because they are sitting in a more favourable lane, but St Paul’s will definitely be making a return in the final, and the outcome could quite easily change in that time.

Finalist predictions (in no particular order):
St Pauls
Shiplake College

Predicted winner:
Westminster School