Schools’ Head 2017 – J16 Championship Eights

There don’t appear to be any weak entries here. Nine solid championship schools have put in entries, and consequently the title should be hotly contested. Usually we can also expect the winner of J16 champ to be very high in the overall. Few of these crews have faced off directly, nevertheless I will attempt to disentangle the entries and conjecture a finishing order of some description.

St Paul’s will be looking to continue the legacy of last year’s crew, who dominated this event, winning by 13 seconds. I doubt any other boat here could boast three oarsmen who have already had a taste of GB trialling, in the form of Albert Doyle, Holden Eaton and Oliver Parish. Parish even took J16 single at the Scullers’ Head and looks to be developing into the “MVP” of J16 rowing, at least for the moment. It remains to be seen whether the standard at the sharp end of the SPS squad has lifted the group, or if there’s a sheer a drop to the remaining 5 oarsmen. Last year in J15 Westminster comfortably bested Paul’s by 7 seconds at the School’s Head, but were overturned at the National Schools’. If they’ve applied that same work ethic over the winter these boys can go out feeling confident, but they ought to still watch out for the old guard.

Eton College have happily entered a boat in J16 champ, two in J16 second eights, and a J16 four, another display of their impressive depth. 2 years ago they won this event in good style, but last year they opted to enter a top quad and two matched eights, none of which were especially fast. Perhaps though, Alex Henshilwood‘s zeroing in on the Schools’ Head will have trickled down to J16. This cohort has performed respectably at lots of races in the South East in a range of boat classes, and they nabbed the win in J16 4+ at Hampton Head. That combination featured Bewicke-Copley, younger brother of now Princeton freshman David, who enjoyed a, shall we say, pretty impressive 2016 season and is said to have recently pulled 5:51 on a static ergo. The other coaches will be hoping that this young pretender follows the longstanding tradition of younger brothers not being as good, to which Messrs Digby and Elwes Jr stand testament. Whilst always at home on the Tideway, Eton‘s current upper sixths did win here as J15s and J16s.

Hampton School have really dedicated energy towards this event this year, sending their J15s and 16s up to practice on the tideway out of UL, useful for coxswains and rowers alike. This lot were 5th at NSR, and 3rd at SHORR, only 5 seconds adrift of St Paul’s in second, which is easily attributable to wayward J15 steering by a cox used to the tranquil Molesey stretch. Word was the squad was crazily deep last year, and the J152nd8+ that won its event at NSR by 12 seconds had several guys who could well have been in the top boat. That type of competition never fails to lift the level in a squad. Something tells me these guys will do well.

King’s College School were uncharacteristically successful in J16 last year, and those rowers went on to be the second fastest Brits at the HOCR, ahead of disastrous Westminster. They took a thoroughly commendable 3rd here last year. However, this bunch were NSR B finalists last year and are unlikely to feature.

Westminster School remain a formidable force across whatever discipline of junior rowing they may choose to apply themselves to. I’ve recounted already the story of these guys’ 2016 season; they will be back and they will be hungry. They will also be better equipped than most any other school here, with skinny blades with no senior second eight, possible a carbon wing eight no more than 2 years old. Which, in what looks to be a blustery headwind, is no small factor.

Royal Shrewsbury School, Abingdon School and Radley College can all, in their year, win titles as prestigious as the PE. However, they all tend to favour a “development” approach, whereby their crews are actually quite slow until reaching championship level. I say quite slow, Radley and RSS were 3rd and 4th in J15Ch8+ last year in a very tight field (Abingdon languishing in the C Final). Sadly for me there hasn’t been much racing from any of these crews on which to base a prediction. Radley could well come out here and win. Both they and Shrewsbury also have pretty blistering senior boats, which reliably boosts the speed of the more junior crews in a given club.

Shiplake College have an immensely tidy and fast first eight, but I think this crew will spat out the back pretty quickly. Normally they bring in sports scholars at 16+, so these guys will be yet to benefit from that. A B final finish at NSR and a low placing at SHORR doesn’t bode well, and it won’t be the “bees” walking home with the medals on Thursday.

Prediction: Hampton, St Paul’s, Westminster