National Schools’ Regatta 2016 – J16 Championship Eights

This isn’t a massive category, as is so often the case in J16 Champ Eights, but it will see some of the quickest racing of the entire regatta. These J16s are on the cusp of becoming fully fledged, experienced oarsmen, and there’s every possibility some of them may be seen in some 1st VIIIs at Henley this year. Certainly, the future of the GB Junior sweep squad resides within this category, and the standard is raised every year. Last year, the event was dominated by a superb Eton crew that have brought great depth to their senior squad this year – but this season, the J16 mantle looks to be taken up by St Paul’s.

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St Paul’s School
In 2012, St Paul’s fielded an exceptional J16 eight that broke the record at NSR and went on to qualify for the Temple Challenge Cup at Henley, making it through to the Thursday. The SPS J16s of this year look to have a very good chance of repeating, if not transcending, the feat. This is a very talented group of oarsmen, combining a big engine room with very technical extremities that combine to form a very fast – and as of yet unbeaten – eight. They’ve already began to break into the GB Junior scene – 5-man Alex Langstone-Bolt performed admirably at February Assessments to secure an invite to the GB J16 sculling camp – and show no signs of weakness within the boat. It’ll take quite a lot to stop the inexorable march of this St Paul’s boat towards victory on Saturday, although, as always, the competition will be fierce – and Hampton, who were beaten by the St Paul’s 8+ last year in the J15 Ch8+ category after being rowed through will be keen to right last year’s wrongs. However, they’ve not managed to make any headway into the boys in black and white as of yet, and so I’m fully predicting a St Paul’s victory.

Hampton School
Last year, Hampton posed the only real challenge to SPS dominance. They led the NSR final, and were rowed through in the 2nd half, rowing an admirable race but simply not having the base speed to maintain their position. This year, Hampton have clearly thrown themselves at the challenge, and they are undoubtedly a form crew in this category. It’s easy to appreciate Hampton’s technical acumen from seeing them paddling around; they move the boat very well together, applying the power smoothly through the stroke in a manner that indicates a level of experience and cohesion often unseen in a J16 crew. What Hampton lack is something that often plagues Hampton boats; physically they can’t really match St Paul’s or Eton. Hampton’s reliance on technical prowess can only take them so far, exemplified perhaps by their fairly dramatic loss to Eton at Wallingford (although the Hampton boys had had races beforehand in fours; in a field of this quality and this strength, Hampton will have to have a really strong row if they want to get in the mix for the top spot.

Eton College
Eton were largely absent from the proceedings last year in J15 Ch8+, as is often the case with J15 Eton crews. They have shown a characteristic increase in speed this year, and appear to be peaking just at the right time. Eton obviously have access to some fantastic facilities and exceptional coaching staff, and considering the strength of last year’s squad, it would seem foolish to write them off at this stage – particularly after their very impressive showing at Wallingford, where they clearly established themselves ahead of Hampton. In short, Eton will be quick, and both St Paul’s and Hampton will have to be wary of the speed of the Etonians – because they’re only getting faster. They’ve got real horsepower in the boat, and I would be surprised if they weren’t well in the race off the start. Traditionally, Etonian crews can do serious damage through the middle 1000 metres of a race, too, which will give the other boats something to think about. With a good row, I think Eton can blast past Hampton – whether they can catch St Paul’s remains to be seen.

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For me, the category is clearly divided between the boats listed above, and the next three – KCS, Abingdon, and Shrewsbury, who will be battling it out for the minor positions. King’s College School will be eager to get as close to a medal position as possible, having entered the year with strong aspirations and seeing some very promising initial results against Hampton. They’re a good crew, with a nice balance between power and technique, and they may have a chance of catching a bronze medal if they have a good row. Indeed, they won bronze at School’s Head, so the boys should have a clear sense of what it takes to really compete in this category. Shrewsbury School will be hot on KCS’s heels; they missed out on a medal at School’s Head, but have been getting some solid work in on their home stretch, and will be eager to perform not just for their own benefit, but for the name of the club – Shrewsbury have been experiencing something of a dry patch for the last few years, and a medal in this category would certainly be welcome – but I just can’t see Shrewsbury being able to challenge the top end of this talented field. Abingdon School have a fine pedigree across all age groups, and they’ve no dearth of raw, physical power within the boat – there are rumours that one or two of their athletes may already be pushing 6:20 on the ergo – but they don’t quite have the technical experience to properly translate that power into raw speed. Their strength will serve them well going into the senior squad, but it looks as if they aren’t in a position to really make an impact on the field quite yet.

Prediction
This will be a tight race, but for me, the clear winner will be St Paul’s after battling a strong start by Hampton School and a sustained challenge from Eton. Around a length back will be Eton College, whose strong base pace and rhythm will be enough to see them push through the Hampton crew. Hampton will cross the line with overlap on Eton.

Good luck to all crews racing. This promises to be quite a showdown.

Five Man

Five Man
  • dave

    “the clear winner will be St Paul’s”……….