Henley Royal Regatta 2016 – Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup (top half)

The biggest event for schoolboy sweep rowing is upon us yet again. This year, the stage is set for some of the fiercest and closest racing seen at a junior level in some time – and with the wind and stream as potent as they are, it’s more important than ever for these crews to apply a highly tactical approach to racing.

Considering the sheer size of the PE category, for the sake of clarity we have divided out preview of the PE into the two halves of the draw. Like last year, each race on the Wednesday will be previewed, as well as a general preview for the latter stages at the end.

Boston College High School, USA vs Dulwich College
Boston College interestingly are an unseeded crew this year, which will be a bit of a blow to the American’s confidence, particularly considering last year they entered the regatta as one of the top American crews, beaten by Radley in a hard-fought race on the Friday. Boston aren’t quite the force they were last year, but some decent results at the NEIRA regatta (where BC High placed 4th) suggests they certainly aren’t slow. They continue to be one of the top school crews in the States, and should move through this Dulwich crew. Dulwich are a club that requires significant time to develop before they can really challenge the top end of this category. They’ve come on strongly since last year – Dulwich didn’t manage to qualify for the PE in 2015 – but considering the lack of depth at the top end of their squad (they only have one 1st VIII athlete in his last year of school) I think they’ll struggle to surmount the strong challenge that Boston will inevitably pose. The fact that Boston have the favoured side will only exaggerate the margin of what will be a strong Bostonian victory.
Verdict: 3 lengths to Boston College High School

Radley College vs Groton School, USA
This race promises to be one of the most exciting in the PE on the Wednesday. Radley come into the PE unseeded, which will definitely be considered a bit of a shock considering their very strong result at NSR – a bronze medal behind Westminster and Eton. However, their draw is, on consideration, pretty positive; they have the favoured lane for all their races (apart from Thursday), should they make it through the first round. Making it through the first round won’t be a walk in the park, considering Radley will be facing the seeded Groton School from the USA. In actuality, the pressure of racing a seeded crew might have more weight over Radley than the standard of Groton itself – Groton are a solid unit, but are far from the best of the foreign entries in the PE this year. If Radley are to make it through, which they have every possibility of doing, they’ll have to keep their heads and row with the same confidence they exhibited at NSR. They looked rather rattled at Marlow Regatta, where they crashed out before the finals after a disastrous time trial that saw them only make the ‘B’ final, almost 10 seconds back on Hampton – but they’ve still shown good speed and have some strong personnel, with talented athletes like James Brocklebank-Fowler, Miles Rowse and James Murrell bringing a wealth of experience to the crew, and the addition of Charlie Elwes’ brother, Freddie, adds considerable strength. Radley have every chance in this competition despite their unseeded status, and look set to win this contest.
Verdict: 2 lengths to Radley College

St George’s College vs Monmouth School
This looks set to be a hard-fought contest. Both squads have seen considerable development and come into the regatta each year with higher expectations. St George’s have a nice style and performed well at Marlow regatta recently to secure a second-place finish in the junior eights category (beaten by the Westminster 2nd VIII), whereas Monmouth showed some fair form in the C Final of the Championship Eights at NSR. For this race, wind and stream may well have a considerable effect, and I think St George’s will benefit greatly from the stream advantage at the start and end of the course. It’ll be a long race – probably well past 7 minutes – and so concentration and determination will be vital from both crews. On the day, I think St George’s will have the edge over the boys from Monmouth.
Verdict: 1 1/2 lengths to St George’s College

Great Marlow School vs Melbourne Grammar School, AUS
Melbourne enter the PE as arguably the strongest foreign crew. They’re the Victorian champions in Australia, winning their nationals comfortably, and combine power and technique to create a formidable unit. There are whispers that this crew might actually be able to overcome the challenge poised by the top British school crews – Eton or Westminster – should they meet in the final; but of course, this is just speculation. What seems likely is that Melbourne will comfortably beat GMS on Wednesday. Great Marlow is another programme that is seeing improvement year on year, and they’ve seen some good small-boat success across all age groups in the past few years. However, they just don’t have the strength or experience to keep up with the Aussies. They’ll have to try to capitalise on their advantage that kicks in just after the island, hoping perhaps that Melbourne will be broken early – but all signs point to Melbourne strongly moving through to Thursday.
Verdict: 4 lengths to Melbourne Grammar School

Jesuit College Prep School, USA vs Pangbourne College
The Jesuit College Prep School come to the PE as the strongest 1st VIII that the school has ever fielded, arguably. Their result in the USRowing Youth Nationals suggests a crew of some strength – 9th in the country in a time of 6:02 certainly establishes the crew as a formidable opponent for any crew in this regatta. They should have Pangbourne in their race on Wednesday. Pangbourne have been rather up-and-down over the past few years, and last year put the weight of its talent into a fairly quick quad. This year, they’re one of the lower-ranked British crews in this category, and will really struggle with the pace set by Jesuit College Prep. I’d suggest that the Americans will go strongly through to the next round of racing.
Verdict: 3 lengths to Jesuit College Prep School

Reading Blue Coat School vs St Paul’s School, Concord, USA
St Paul’s Concord are another seeded foreign crew in this regatta, and come with a significant amount of pressure on their shoulders – SPS Concord are traditionally a crew that performs very well at the regatta. This year, I can certainly see them progressing through to the latter stages of the competition. They’re a well-drilled unit that performed well at Marlow and at Reading Town, proving themselves the fastest of most of their American rivals, and will surely have closed the 2-second gap on Hampton since Marlow, considering that the SPS crew were barely off the plane at the time. Reading Blue Coat will pose a challenge, but won’t be able to hang on to the strength of the Americans. Blue Coat are undoubtedly a crew with potential, and have looked to be a tidy unit in training, but I can’t see any other eventuality than St Paul’s blasting out of the blocks and continuing to push away through the race.
Verdict: 3 lengths to St Paul’s School, Concord

Norwich School vs Abingdon School
Looking at the draw from afar, one might think that this race will be a cut-and-dry affair, with Abingdon easily progressing as the stronger school crew. However, this is not the Abingdon 1st VIII – 6 of the members remain from the NSR crew, but notably the two ‘main men’, Tom Digby and Adam Teece, have moved into a quad to compete the Fawley Cup, leaving the Abingdon 8+ fairly significantly weakened. Norwich, meanwhile, have been picking up speed fairly quickly, evidenced by their pre-qualification and a strong victory in IM3 8+ at Star Regatta. They’ve got some strong guys in the middle of the boat, and will throw everything they have at Abingdon to try and secure a victory. It’s not totally out of the question, but the likelihood is Abingdon will take the win. They’re a decent crew with good physical strength, and will probably have the explosive dynamism off the start to break Norwich and go on to a strong victory.
Verdict: 2 lengths to Abingdon School

Windsor Boys’ School vs St Paul’s School
Considering St Paul’s first-round duel with Abingdon last year, this could be considered a ‘kinder’ draw from SPS, who are seeded despite finishing 5th in the Champ 8+ final at NSR. The crew has 6 returners from last year’s PE-winning crew, but they’ve failed to really show the speed that should accompany the personnel in the boat. With 8 of the members of the crew having represented GB at some level – including 3 Worlds returners in the form of Freddie Davidson, David Ambler and cox Vlad Saigau – on paper they are a formidable force. But they’ve struggled to recapture the magic of Henley last year thus far, and really this is the last chance for SPS to prove they are still at the top of British schoolboy rowing. Windsor Boys largely show their quality in their sculling boats, but they’ve been working hard at improving the 8+, validated by the Steward’s pre-qualification of the Windsor crew. They have the favoured lane, which will be beneficial off the start and through the enclosures, but they’ll struggle to hang on to St Paul’s at any stage in the race on Wednesday. SPS will likely continue strongly through to the Thursday race, where they seem set to face Abingdon in a repeat of last year’s matchup.
Verdict: 3 1/2 lengths to St Paul’s

Latter stages
Reviewing the entire first half of the draw, it would seem that Radley taking Groton’s seed could really throw everything into question. Radley’s strength is certainly comparable to Melbourne’s, and Radley may well sneak a semi-final spot from the Australian school in a massive upset. Meanwhile, I fancy the two St Paul’s crews to face each other on the Friday, with the British crew moving into the semi-final. This could all lead to a repeat of last year’s semi between SPS and Radley… but of course, this is all speculation – and anything can happen at Henley!

Stay tuned for the preview of the second half of the draw.

Five Man
  • Rowing_Supporter Aus

    Although not Australian Champions (did not compete – and on form if they did compete they would been close to the winners), or Victorian Champions (2nd) in 2016, nevertheless Melbourne Grammar is a strong crew that has been building for 3+ years. Over the season MGS was the strongest crew in Victoria, and ultimately won the Head of the River (late March), beating Scotch College for the first time since 2009. MGS has not had a competitive race for 10+ weeks and no Henley experience. However as they have a favourable draw, based on the NSR results if they are fit they should account for Radley and for St Pauls. If Westminster and Eton flog themselves in their semi final, MGS would have a real chance. Also from Melbourne – in the girls section (Diamond Jubilee) keep an eye on Ruyton Girls School , National champions (March) by almost 7 seconds.