With seemingly endless bouts of bad weather this season, BUCS Head has been added to the list of affected events with all beginner categories cancelled and the championship & intermediate events moved to the Sunday. The Tyne is still set to be blustery and cold which will in turn provide challenging racing conditions for the clubs that manage to make it safely to Newcastle. Entry statistics for Sunday showed that 50.2% of crews on the start list were in women's events- a great thing to see for the growth of women in the sport.
Newcastle will be the first women’s crew down the track this weekend on their home water in the championship eights. They had another solid run on the Tyne at Rutherford Head in December finishing second behind ULBC. In their absence, the blue star will have their sights set on a gold medal, but sure to challenge them will be Edinburgh who, like Newcastle, have sent many athletes to compete on the national U23 squad in recent years. They’ve proven the strength of their women’s squad on numerous occasions and a win at Four’s Head in the coxless four would hint that this season will be no different.
Imperial are the only BUCS entry that raced at Quintin where they didn’t appear to have a great run. However, results from private fixtures would indicate they’ve made a significant step on in the last few weeks which now leaves them the opportunity to prove whether they’ll be back in the mix for WEHORR. Looking at the Rutherford Head results, the margins would put them very close in speed to Durham who will be hot on their heels and looking to repeat last year’s result where they finished ahead of IC. Following Durham are Bath, who finished a little behind Imperial’s coxed four back at Four’s Head and second at Bristol University Head in the eight, while Nottingham are the last crew in this field off the back of a solid eights win at Newark Head.
The intermediate eights is a much larger category with 31 crews entered. Demonstrating great depth are Edinburgh and Newcastle, adding a second and third eight onto their championship eight entries, while Exeter, UCL and Surrey all have two crews in the intermediate eights. The case for college rowing is clear with four Durham entries in the intermediate events, too, with presumably a couple of them coming from the college boat clubs. The big names with entries already in the championship event will likely dominate the intermediate event with firm competition from the clubs who have their first eight in this category such as Exeter, Liverpool and Queen’s University Belfast. Newcastle's presumed second eight were quite a margin behind their first crew at Rutherford although the CRI rankings might hint that this is a different crew entered. Glasgow had a good run at Rutherford and might surprise a few of the crews further up the start list after beating Durham's second eight there.
The final women’s event in division 1 is a four-boat race for the medals in the championship lightweight women’s quads. Eyes will be on Reading, a very strong sculling programme who sent an athlete to U23 worlds last year in the lightweight double and no less than dominated the quads at HOR4s. They will be trying to hold off entries from Nottingham, Exeter and relative newbies on the university rowing scene, De Montfort.
Moving into the afternoon, Reading will be looking to take home more gold medals in the openweight quads and will no doubt be tough to beat. Chasing them down the course are crews from Edinburgh, Bath and Durham. Edinburgh tend to prioritise their sweep crews but always show plenty of depth and will field a quality crew, while Bath have produced many quality scullers including the double that finished fifth at European U23s last summer and are likely Reading’s biggest opposition. Reading have proven they're currently home to some of the top young sculling athletes in the country and really it looks like it will be a chance for the other entries to see how small they can make the margin.
The intermediate quads is a 24-strong field which will see the likes of Newcastle and Edinburgh competing with clubs with sculling as their primary focus including Reading and Hartpury. Nottingham had a good result at Four's Head, finishing as the quickest university behind two Reading crews so should be looking to perform again here but again, Reading's second place finish at HOR4s puts them in a strong position to top both the championship and intermediate quads. With their top quad entered into intermediate, this could be a chance for Newcastle to make their mark but this will depend on whether they've chosen to put a lot of their top athletes into the fours instead. It’s great to see a range of UK wide universities getting entries in, from Glasgow Caledonian to Bangor, and hopefully we will see some of the smaller clubs challenging the large programmes this weekend.
We can expect a lot of the same tussling that goes on in the eights as crews split into fours for the second division. Newcastle, Edinburgh, Imperial, Durham and Nottingham all have entries in both coxed and coxless championship fours as well as the championship eights. Edinburgh were the top dogs back at Four’s Head in the W4- with about ten seconds separating them from Imperial. The London university will be looking to close that gap amongst tough competition from what will be very strong Newcastle entries and further entries from Sheffield and Aberdeen who are stepping into championship for the fours. Nottingham are ranked high on the start list, which might be a cause for worry for some of the other entries, but if this is indeed the crew listed under the same name as their coxed four from HOR4s they will have a little more work to do to catch the likes of Edinburgh. Durham's coxless four looked to have a good race at Rutherford Head and will be worth keeping an eye on for those BUCS points.
It will be much the same story in the coxed fours, this time with Scottish clubs University of Glasgow and Robert Gordon University racing the championship eights clubs. At last year’s BUCS regatta, Glasgow were just 0.1s from taking the gold medal in the intermediate fours and if they’ve held onto their athletes could be a dark horse here whilst the second halves of the championship eight entries will look to prove their depth. The final event of the day is a large field of intermediate women’s coxed fours. St. Andrews were third at HOR4s behind Oxford and Cambridge, albeit a fair way off the pace of the top end crews. They will likely be under pressure from the likes of Edinburgh and Newcastle as well as Bath and Surrey. With only two weeks between BUCS and WEHORR, this weekend will be an absolutely crucial marker for crews looking to finish their head season well back on the Tideway.