This weekend sees universities from all across the UK come to Newcastle for BUCS 4’s and 8’s Head, and one of very few chances to earn those all-important BUCS points. Due to the fallout from Storms Ciara and Dennis, and the incoming Storm Ellen, the racing for championship and intermediate crews has been moved to Sunday as the beginners events have been scrapped. The weather has hugely impacted many clubs nationwide, and as a result there are some notable absences from the draw on top of a large predicted scratch in the days approaching the event, as the forecast high winds are making transport challenging.
Only 6 entries into Championship Eights, with Newcastle starting first ahead of Imperial, Edinburgh, Durham, Glasgow and Nottingham. No surprise at Brookes’ absence, but no showing from London and Bristol makes for a far thinner field, as both unis seems to be training as normal this weekend, maybe transport concerns are behind the absence. The racing disruption so far this year (45+ events cancelled since September) has meant that many universities have only attended their local events, so for many of these crews this is their first tussle of the year. Imperial’s fast time at Quintin places them near the top of many people’s expectations. At Rutherford Head a few months ago, UL had 12 seconds on Newcastle, with Durham 9 seconds behind Newcastle, so using UL as a guide, Imperial should come away with a win followed by Newcastle and Durham. Given the large number of race cancellations, IC will undoubtedly have benefited from tough racing in fixtures with the likes of Goldie and Isis over the past few weeks, too.
Edinburgh’s only major race has been their first ever (recent) visit to Four’s Head, which had a far stronger showing in their quads than fours, but given the standard of the programme, nobody would be surprised to see Edinburgh slide into the top 3. Nottingham often compete in the rear end of Championship alongside Bath and Bristol, but this year they should make light work of Glasgow University.
Intermediate eights has 33 entries, and again are starting off with Newcastle, Imperial and Nottingham’s 2nd eights. The IC 2V still showed at Quintin that they had the speed to oust Bristol, but at Rutherford the Newcastle 2V was only 16 seconds behind their top crew compared to Imperial’s 30. Newcastle’s depth will surely shine through, however previous BUCS Head’s have seen Newcastle opt to enter their first lightweight eight, which has resulted in inter 8+ wins the last 2 years the category ran. The biggest challenge from other first eights will surely come from Bath and Exeter. Strange for Bath not to enter championship, however their strategy of entering a top 4+ and a second 8+ at Henley Royal Regatta last year went quite nicely for them, so they may be repeating this strategy. Exeter were hit hard after their coach last year had to leave, but with a new coach, a very successful Henley campaign still fresh, and a great trial run with some actual racing at Worcester Uni Head, I imagine their eyes are firmly set on the blue and yellow of Bath.
Only 5 entries in Championship Quads, with Newcastle starting and trailed by Reading, Durham, Hartpury and Strathclyde. A very different line-up to last year at Gloucester before the storm set in and racing was abandoned. Reading being one of the top sculling universities in the country will want to take down Newcastle, as despite a comfortable win at last year’s BUCS Head, when the Regatta swung around Newcastle came home with a silver as Reading went home with only the BUCS points in Champ 4x. Queen’s Belfast and Edinburgh took home the other two medals, and to see neither in championship is a bit odd. Durham tend to prioritise their sweeping, while Hartpury do the polar opposite and religiously scull, with Hartpury’s tactic tending to work better for the boys from Gloucester. A disappointing BUCS Head on home water last year, but a solid result at Four’s Head and some strong sculls at GB Trials mean Hartpury shouldn’t be ignored. Strathclyde had a great 2019 season which saw some great performances in their singles and doubles, so a fast quad isn’t off the table at all, it’s just a question of if their smaller club size can compete against some of the giants of UK sculling.
Intermediate 4x is looking to be led by Reading’s 2nd quad, as the notorious quality of their second and third boats will earn them plenty of BUCS points – thinking back to Henley 2018 when Reading Uni made up ¼ of the Prince of Wales. However, the Irish probably have this event, as the Queen’s quad is probably the most likely to come away with a gold medal as their second boat did last year in this category – a very significant drop-off would need to have occurred for Queen’s to not be eyeing up that gold eagerly. Division 1 has seen Edinburgh place 2 other Championship entries, but an intermediate for their quad suggests it may not contain their best 4 athletes. The lightweight category only has an entry each from Nottingham and Reading, meaning that Newcastle have only entered 1 quad into the event. The top end of Inter 4x also sees entries from De Montfort, Bangor and Loughborough’s top crews. Special mention must go to De Montfort, who have hopefully had a fire ignite within their club after the incredible success of their men’s double from last year who not only won Champ 2x but raced at HRR, on top of their very successful beginner quad getting a silver medal at BUCS Regatta against some of the best-funded programmes in the country. They may not have a spectacular result this weekend, but the DMU quad are certainly one to watch.
The champ 4- draw is identical to the champ 8+ draw with a bit of reshuffling, and it’s often a safe bet to say that a 1st VIII is split into a 4- and 4+. There is no intermediate 4- category, forcing all smaller programmes into inter 4+, but there does exist one of the last lightweight sweep categories at a major British event. Nottingham and Newcastle are widely regarded as the two university programmes championing lightweight rowing above all others; Nottingham got a bronze in Lwt 2- and a silver in Lwt 4x at BUCS Regatta, while Newcastle won Lwt 8+, Lwt 4x and Lwt 4-, and got a bronze in Lwt 2x. A dark horse joins the race in the shape of the University of Surrey, who operate out of Molesey Boat Club, and have a significantly smaller programme than the other entries of Bath and Exeter. Newcastle and Nottingham for 1 and 2, free-for-all for 3.
As mentioned above, most of the championship entries are the same as with the eights, with a few exceptions. Exeter’s top 4+ starting 3rd will be based off CRI, and should rightly make the other fours a bit uneasy. A scratch from York eliminates any real surprises the event may have had, as again Imperial look poised to take home gold with Newcastle snapping at their heels. Inter 4+ has 34 entries and it’s here that you’ll find most smaller universities’ top crews, getting a good look at each other before HORR. The non-championship programme crews to watch in this category are undoubtedly St Andrews and Leeds. Both of these universities enjoyed unrivalled success at Henley last year due to St Andrew’s incredible run in the PA and Leeds becoming a household name after THAT race in the Diamond Sculls, which as a result has shined a light onto Leeds rowing as a whole.