Henley Royal Regatta 2017 – The Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup

Junior rowing has reached the final frontier. To many, this is the ultimate prize in schoolboy rowing; the chance to emerge victorious from the heat of matched battle; the opportunity to vanquish your foes in a manner that is as devastating as it is superlative; the moment to compete in front of thousands sat mere metres from the end of the blade which propels your crew forward; the memories of crossing the line as brothers in arms.

This Wednesday will mark the beginning of the Henley Royal Regatta, and the start of some of the most ‘fast and furious’ racing we will see this year. This year will also be one of the most competitive Henleys in recent history. The question of whether the cup goes abroad or stays at home is up in the air.

Kent USA vs Monkton Combe – Monkton have had a much stronger season than last year where they finished at the bottom end in the 8s at the National Schools’ Regatta. Now they will compete in the PE this year, racing with some of the best crews around. They had a decent run at Marlow and pushed crews which were in finals above them at National Schools’.

Kent have also had a successful season. As a team, they won the New England (NEIRAs) points trophy, with each of their three boats winning gold. They have unfortunately had to put out a “1.5V”, as they call it, as a number of their athletes are too old to compete in the PE. Thus, they have decided to form a top 4 and send them into the PA. I still believe, even with this being a 1.5V, they have the depth to beat Monkton and proceed to Thursday.

Eton vs Bedford – This race is an unlucky one for Bedford, coming up against possibly one of the top, if not best, seeded crews this early in the event. This is one of the strongest Bedford years in recent memory, taking scalps of many Champ 8 foes. If not for such a tough draw, they would have been likely to progress to the next round or even the Friday. However, the Eton crew they are facing are an experienced one, with four of their crew having won the PE last year after placing second to Westminster at National Schools’. This year, they again came second at National Schools’, this time to St Paul’s School. It will be interesting to see if they have stepped on at all.

Hampton vs Monmouth – Hampton are a good crew. They are relatively young and, perhaps, inexperienced compared to other crews. But they have shown good speed this season and are typically not a crew to be messed with at Henley. A solid performance at National Schools’ resulted in them racing in the A final, which is no easy feat. On the other hand their opposition, Monmouth School, have not been partaking in much 8s racing this season, preferring to opt for the 4+ at National Schools, where they came 5th. However, just because Monmouth was out of the eight much of the year and had to qualify, doesn’t necessarily mean this will be a walkover for Hampton.

Scotch College vs St George’s – Scotch College are the current Australian national champs. They did a 5:40 in Bosban this weekend, which is extremely fast for a schoolboy crew. If they beat St George’s College, they may meet the likes of Eton college, St Paul’s and Hampton in the early stages of racing. They are definitely a crew to watch out for. St. George’s, like Monmouth, have also chosen to spend their season in the 4+. They performed very well in the 4+ on the Saturday at National Schools’ where they were crowned winners of the 1st fours event. Yet the sheer pace and ferocity at which the boys from Scotch will be coming will make it tough for St George’s to be able to match them.

St Paul’s vs Dulwich – On paper, one would expect St Paul’s boys to win this race. They placed first at National Schools’, despite the crew being almost entirely made up of lower 6th students and haven’t been scared to show their speed at the MET and Marlow regattas, where they managed to get close to some university and club crews.

The Dulwich boys have also had a good season, and put up a superb fight at National Schools to hold off King’s Chester. They raced well at Marlow, and should be confident going into the race on wednesday.

Shiplake vs Westminster – This race is without doubt the highlight of the 1st day of PE racing. It’s very unfortunate that both crews have been drawn against each other this early, as this matchup will see the 3rd and 4th fastest 8s at the National Schools’, face off in a duel. Shiplake are the seeded crew in this race, but only due to the small margin at National Schools’. This is Shiplake’s home water, and Westminster have finalled for two years in a row, so both crews will be eager to make sure their 2017 Henley showing doesn’t end on the first day of racing. The loss will not only be sad for the crew that gets knocked out, but also for the regatta as a whole because this should have been a friday match-up, at the very least.

Gonzaga vs Great Marlow School – Gonzaga are one of the seeded international crews this year and for good reason, they came fourth at Youth Nationals in Sarasota this year. The feat of this can only be truly understood when looking at the other crews in the surrounding lanes and the B final. Gonzaga were the only school crew in the top finals and they were competing against clubs like CRI and Marin, who have huge resources and many rowers at their disposal. Their competition is Great Marlow School. The GMS crew is a relatively young one and many of them will have another year at Henley. I believe the experience they got from last year and from this year will serve them well for next year. I just don’t believe they are in a position to deal with this powerful American crew.

Winchester vs Kings Chester – This may be one of the last times for a while that we see a Winchester boat competing at the top end of regatta racing. As many of this year’s crew is in their final year and there aren’t many young guns below them with the same sort of power to fill the gaps they are leaving behind. The Winchester crew should be confident against this Chester crew who, whilst good, were some way behind them at National Schools’ and haven’t competed since National Schools. Winchester have many strong lads on board and they will be looking for their first race win at Henley, which they are yet to achieve.

Radley vs Episcopal USA – After having placed 5th at National Schools’, Radley College have dramatically changed their crew, and brought in some new power, including a J16, who apparently pulls a sub 6:10 ergo. Radley have definitely gotten much faster in recent weeks, and seem to always peak for Henley. They beat Winchester by a comfortable margin, greater than that at National Schools’, at Reading town and should certainly not be underestimated. Episcopal Academy are a seeded crew from the USA, but perhaps the choice to seed them is based on where they are from rather than actual speed. It is hard to be sure exactly how fast they might be versus some of the top UK schools. However, we do know that at Reading Town they just beat Abingdon’s J16s.

Montclair vs Kings College School – Montclair are coming into this regatta undefeated in the summer season picking up wins at the Stotesbury Cup, Scholastics and the National Schools Championship Regatta. What we learn from this is that Montclair are currently on form and faster than Kent School and Gonzaga, but it’s been said that at Stotes, Gonzaga pushed them from a poor lane draw. Montclair had the opportunity to go to Youth Nationals but decided to go to the National Schools Championship to raise money for the trip over so it makes it harder to gauge their 2k speed with all aforementioned races taking place over 1.5 k which is a different beast to the 2k. KCS on the other hand haven’t had the most amazing regatta season, but it should be mentioned that with the week’s training they had on the Charles last year they were only 6 seconds down over the whole course on both Montclair and Gonzaga, so maybe we shouldn’t totally count them out. But, it would be an upset if they were to pull it off.