The JM 4+ is often on of the most hotly contested events at Fours head. It’s the first big opportunity for many crews to put down a marker of speed and to send a message of intent to the other crews across the junior circuit. This year sees 31 crews take to the water in an attempt to claim the title of fastest coxed junior men’s four. The crews are split into two bands; one containing 8 crews and the other containing 23. It looks to be that band 1 is made up of exclusively ‘championship’ crews whilst band 2 has a whole range of different speeds. Whatever the layout, this event is sure to provide some exciting racing with a close grouping of times.
The entries in Band 1 come from 6 different schools with Radley college, Latymer Upper school, King’s College School and St Paul’s school all providing one crew whilst Shrewsbury and Westminster provide two fours each. It is likely that the schools providing only one crew have entered their top crew into this band and then have placed their second (and third) crews into band 2 whilst the two schools providing two boats may have matched crews. Despite this, it would be wrong to discount Shrewsbury or Westminster from taking the top spot as both schools have extensive programmes and had successful seasons last year with many notable victories and memorable races. Radley may have a point to prove this weekend against St Pauls as SPS one-upped Radley at HOCR finishing 2nd whilst Radley placed 14th. No doubt the Radley boys will come into this race hungry as ever, as their crew houses three Coupe rowers from 2019. The Pauls crew they will be facing is one which pulls no punches and will look to set the benchmark for other crews to reach as they set off first in band 1. KCS had a very rewarding season last year, with their 1st eight being the quickest they have ever had on time. They will go again this season to progress and be even better this year. No doubt they would have targeted this event as a great springboard for the remainder of winter racing and into the summer months. If they are able to get a good result here, it would fill them with confidence and drive to challenge the best of the best. The same goes for Latymer Upper school, who dropped a little under the radar last year but were in no shortage of decent speed. They will look to use this event as a chance to get one over on the crews around them and to begin spreading fear amongst other crews that they have something to show this season.
Band 2 contains the rest of the crews from this event. St Paul’s school and Abingdon school both have 3 entries into this band showing the depth that both of these programmes have. Both schools will no doubt have significant speed across all the crews they are fielding and will look to be head and shoulders above the rest of the competition. Radley have one four entered into band 2, suggesting that they may have split there eight from HOCR in half for this race. This boat should be challenging for the top 10 positions on the weekend and will want to show their intent on Sunday. Bedford school have placed only one coxed four into this event, suggesting that this could be their top four. If it is to be then this crew will have dangerous pace and the rest of the field should be ready to receive some tough competition from Bedford as they will be up for the challenge after last years slightly underwhelming season. St George’s college have also provided a strong contingent of rowers with 3 boats being entered into band 2. These crews will have a good crack at pushing for those top 10 places and in entering a high number of crews St George’s have, therefore, shown they have depth when it comes to a competitive squad. One can also expect that clubs such as Twickenham RC and Maidstone Invicta will bring some fierce racing for the schools to face. Sir William Borlase’s school have entered two fours into this event which should have some decent speed and will be looking to fend off challenges from schools such as Bedford modern school and King’s college school who will aim to lay down some quick times for the season ahead. All in all, this event should provide some of the fiercest racing of the weekend and expect some tight groupings when the results come in on race day.
This year’s junior men’s quadruple scull is a stacked event with elite sculling, and has been split into two bands based on a boat's CRI. Firstly, band 1 is filled with heavyweights of the junior sculling scene. The crew setting off first is a Henley ‘A’ Crew. The crew made the Fawley final last season and won Nat Schools, narrowly beating Leander Club, which goes to show that they are one of the favourites for the event, there is also GB representation within the crew, Seth O’Connor represented Great Britain in the single scull at the Junior World Championships in August. More recently they won the prestigious coxed quad event at Head of the Charles by a landslide, and look set to move on strongly from last year.
The second crew off the start is another Henley Crew in the form of their ‘B’ crew, the fact that Henley RC have the top two starting positions show their strength in depth as a squad, the ‘B’ crew last year got to the Friday of Henley Royal and winning in the second quad event at National schools, James Swinburn returns from that crew that won at Nat Schools.
Tideway Scullers had a dominant season last season at J16, winning national schools in the quad, qualifying for Henley Royal at J16 is a difficult task so representing as tideway’s second crew shows the ability of the scullers. To top off the season the quad represented GB in the GB vs France fixture, taking the gold medal. In addition, it is their home water so that will be extra motivation to push for the win.
Claires Court School have been a dominant force within the sculling scene over the past few years, winning the Fawley in 2016. After a lacklustre 2018, last year they got back on the horse, and recently they came third at Nat Schools and reached the Saturday of Henley. There second crew came sixth which shows a depth in squad, so they could be surprise a few of the other crews.
Lea RC had a very good session progressing on the solid performances over the last seasons. They had solid performances at Nat Schools, with the ‘A’ crew coming fourth and the ‘B’ crew coming first in the B final of the second quads. Qualifying for Henley Royal and getting to the Friday. To top off last season, 3 of the crew members represented Great Britain, Marlow Depeza-Purvis and Sam O’Connor won the GB vs France match in the double and Luca Ferraro came fourth at Coupe de la Jeunesse in the double scull.
The crews mentioned are the in the mix to win the event as they have had solid progression over the last few years, which gives them the strongest opportunity to win the event, there isn’t a clear favourite as some of the talent that were in the crews last year have gone off to university, this is the first test to see how the season will play out. While the lack of Leander Pink at Fours Head is amusing to many, if does provide us with a dark horse coming into later events like Reading Head.
Looking at the draw, there are only 5 crews entered into the Band 1 category: 2 St Pauls crews, 1 Kings College crew, and 2 Abingdon crews. Over the past few months, St Pauls have racked up some momentum, with some major wins, showing something is going right there. With a home field advantage on top of this, practicing on the swirly conditions of the tideway, it will be interesting to see how they fair in this event, possibly pushing on for a win. Last year the top KCS coxless four placed 7th in the championship band. This year’s crew designation is O. Pearson, a returning member of last year’s 1st VIII, which placed 8th in the A Final at the National Schools Regatta. Unfortunately, we cannot see the rest of the crew this year, so not much more to go off, but we could see a good race from them, given the current known pedigree. Abingdon in recent years has had a bit of a tail of from the Golden Era of 2011-2013, but we could be seeing a slight resurgence. The two designations are B. Crofts and D. McNamara, two members from the 2018/19 J16A 8+ and 4-, which won a bronze medal in both disciplines at the National Schools Regatta. Could this be a turning point in Abingdon rowing?
There are 7 crews currently standing in Band 2 for Saturday, all from different clubs. Some will be benefitting from the crucial advantage of home territory, but all will face some tough conditions. Westminster have only got one crew entered into coxless fours. Is this their top boat? I am a bit dubious, seeing as there is a Band 1 Quad entered, but no doubt there will be a good challenge put in, as they will have been conditioned to row well in these tough conditions. This year it seems Bedford have moved away from the coxless quad and back towards their sweeping roots. There aren’t many results to draw upon, mostly due to the widespread flooding in the midlands, but it will be interesting to see how they fare. They may not have a big journey, but it will be a big step up. Moving from the non-tidal to the tidal part of the Thames is going to be a big test for all crews. In the pairs head, Walton RC won the J18 Senior 2x, posting the 8th fastest time overall for all J18 doubles. However, with 2 Junior coxless quads, it is more than likely the duo from the double will feature in these.
More locals again, Emanuel boat club have always been sat in the middle of rankings of the tideway programmes. However, with recent successes at the Pairs head for two members of this crew, L. Bligh and O. Olby, placing close to the Walton double, could we see a surge for Emanuel? I guess we will find out this weekend. It was quite a surprise seeing these two crews entered into a sweep event for fours head. I always had the idea that these two clubs were more adept and highly trained in sculling crews. Nonetheless, it will be intriguing to see how this variation from the norm will affect them, and whether it could possibly push for a change in tradition. St Pauls have a third crew entered into the J18 4- event. This crew has quite a low CRI for the event, suggesting it could be a development or novice crew. Even though they are probably quite new to the sport, with the good show St Pauls always puts on, we can expect to see a good start from the newcomers.
We can all look forward to seeing some good quality racing, from all events, come the weekend. It won’t necessarily be the biggest crew that wins it, but the crew that rows the course and the conditions the best. Good luck to all crews racing, can’t wait to get out on the water.