Wallingford Head – J18A.8+

Wallingford is a mainstay of the winter season, and will see many of junior rowing’s bruisers take to the water in matched eights. Eton College will race on Saturday at Teddington Head. For some this will be suprising; Alex Henshilwood has uncharacteristically taken every oppurtunity this year to race arch-rivals St Paul’s, with appearances at the Pairs and Fours Heads. The way the divisions have fallen this year means that the clubs with many boats racing have J18, J16 and J15 entries scattered across Senior, Elite, Intermediate and various Junior categories. Despite the rather bewildering array of boats, I shall attempt to preview the crews that stand out (in no particular order).

Hampton have, as is customary for them, used acronyms to conceal the strokemen of their crews, but have 5 eights in various categories in the morning division. Common sense would suggest 2 or more of these represent Hampton’s J16 contingent, and there is no way of knowing which is which. An acceptable batch of returners and a notoriously strong crop of incumbent J17s bodes well for the boys in black and yellow, and I would expect them to be very much in the mix.

Radley are doing much the same as their counterparts from other public schools and fielding two matched eights, although theatrical commitments and illness within the squad leave them weakened. The school has taken on two-time Olympian Sam Townsend as a coach this year and can boast an impressive new indoor rowing tank. Furthermore, they have just purchased a flashy new Filippi eight, and one would expect them to be racing in it. Last year John Gearing merged the J16 and senior squads, and their NSR bronze-winning eight was the youngest in the field. Whilst circumstances could leave them vulnerable, the boys in white and red will be a year older and wiser, and have every reason to dream big this year.

Abingdon have 5 crews racing, unhelpfully not one of them is in an age-restricted category. Hence any prediction is nothing more than guesswork. Following years of domination, Bing Bong have rather faded into the background in recent years, culminating in a rather cowardly stab at the Fawley in 2016. Despite this they remain one of the best-equipped schools in junior rowing, with 3 carbon eights, and have a good coach in the form of Ali Brown. The loss of the talismanic Tom Digby and partner in crime Adam Teece does not bode well for 2017, and unless the Abingdon 1st eight is racing I’d be suprised to see “ABS” at the sharp end of the results.

Molesey have managed to put together a junior eight, but this is more of a quirk than anything else. They are unlikely to make a dent in the field. Whilst the club have proven themselves eminently capable of producing top athletes for the GB Junior team, they are not known for their depth.

Winchester might be a big school, but their boat club usually faces a severe lack of numbers as their main obstacle. Contrary to expectation, they look to be fielding two matched eights in the afternoon division, which will allow us to, if nothing else, compare times.

St Paul’s will be the ones to cap off my preview. Following a turbulent 2015-16 season, everything suggests that Paul’s should be good this year. Some eye-watering results at the GB Early ID assessments from their 14 triallists (!) leave them really with no excuses. They will have two eights out, racing both divisions. An SPS matched eight managed to take the J18 pennant last year, and Bobby Thatcher will no doubt be hoping for the same again.

In a total stab in the dark, I hazard that SPS-Dickinson will be the fastest junior crew of the day, based on nothing other than gut feeling.