J18 Boys | Eights & Fours - NSR 2019

Championship 8+

1 down, 2 to come. Having already taken a close victory at Schools Head, the Shiplake rowers have their eyes on the most prized accolade a schoolboy rower can have: the elusive triple of SHORR, NSR and HRR. Their Schools Head victory had been alluded to all season through some strong results at Reading Head and Hammersmith Head, but their 0.5 second lead on Eton and 0.9 second lead on St Pauls leaves them with no room to relax. An Easter Training Camp in Temple-Sur-Lot gave them a good springboard into the regatta season, yet the regatta season has been less kind than the head season was. They separated the eight into two parallel coxed fours at Wallingford Regatta with some incredibly consistent results showing their strength across the eight. However, at Wallingford and at Nottingham City Regatta one week later in the eight, Radley College have denied them the win, by over 3 seconds at Nott City. With a lot of recent history between these two schools at Henley and Nat Schools, I imagine that Dave Currie’s boys can’t wait to settle it once again. Shiplake also sent half of their eight to race in their well-earnt GB vests at Munich Junior Regatta, gaining a variety of medals and experience along the way. Still at the very top level of schoolboy rowing despite the new rival, Shiplake aren’t going to give up quietly. At last year’s NSR they came from behind Bedford School in the last 200m to take Bronze. Given their results thus far, something tells me that another Bronze medal won’t give them any satisfaction, especially as they’ve been billed as top dogs since March.

Last year’s NSR is very much an “I don’t want to talk about it” moment for Eton’s first eight. Coming out on the wrong side of the punishing time trial, their unfavourable lane in the semi and the final restricted them to a 5th place finish. Their redemption at Henley was fantastic to watch, but a loss on their home waters is hard to forget. It seems however that they’ve learnt and moved on, as their close 2nd place at SHORR was preceded by excellent trials results and wins at events such as Kingston Head. Many of their eight have already earnt places in the GB squad at last year’s Junior Worlds and Coupe De La Jeunesse, with their infamous squad depth showing. After a training camp in Spain over Easter the regatta season has been less eventful, only entering into Wallingford Regatta on home waters and coming 2nd in Challenge Eights to Thames Rowing Club. Their 1 second lead on St Pauls suggests that they’ve held their School’s Head margin. In the run-up to NSR, Dorney lake is used by many schools for a bit of acclimatisation and on-location training, so despite their lack of official regattas they won’t have been short on competition. Much like St Pauls, Eton did not send any athletes to Munich and have kept the eight-training continuous, which might just give them the edge at the weekend. Medals are an expectation for Eton College, and they won’t be waiting for Championship Fours on Sunday to get one.

It’s often the case that a crew’s previous achievements can cast their current ability into shadow, and it was always going to be tough for St Paul’s after last year especially after losing so many of their crew to Universities. Their current crew is still right by the top of Championship Eights; a strong achievement for any school. Some promising results at the Head of the Charles and other autumn races culminated in a Bronze Medal at School’s Head. No mean feat, but not enough for Bobby’s boys. An efflux of 6 oarsmen and a cox from last year’s eight means that their current crew is far younger than the rest of the field, including a J16 in the eight, and all of them with experience of medalling at NSR; last year’s J16 eight came second to Shiplake at NSR. Their margin of loss at Schools Head was tiny, and they left a comfortable 19 second gap ahead of Radley. Their year so far has been full of narrow margin losses, as they lost to Eton by less than a second in the eight at Wallingford Regatta. Yet in Challenge Coxless Fours they finished a close 3rd against the much older men of Lea RC and Thames, an impressive result. The St Paul’s boys will undeniably be fast, right up in the medal contention, but don’t let last year’s abnormal winning margin dampen expectations. Retaining that gold medal position is priority number one for this crew, and it's by no means unrealistic.

In a repeat of last year, it seems that once again that Radley College have left it to the regatta season to show up, and show up they have. After some steering mishaps at SHORR and a shock upset at Bedford Regatta last year, their surge to take 2nd at National Schools was a true return to form for them. At Schools Head 2019 a 4th place finish may not sound bad, but that 19 second gap between the leading 3 eights at Schools Head must have triggered something in the college boys at their seemingly productive training camp in Slovenia. They have entirely closed this gap, and at recent races such as Nottingham City Regatta and Wallingford Regatta, they have taken wins against the likes of Shiplake and Westminster. Nott City in particular ruffled some feathers after winning by 3 seconds, sending some serious doubts the way of Shiplake. After sending 4 boys to Munich Regatta for Team GB, Radley have got people’s attention once again and in true Radley fashion they'll go out there to impress and to medal.

Another school who made the trek to the Head of the Charles earlier in the year, Royal Shrewsbury didn’t quite reach the levels of racing that St Paul’s did over there, but have taken last year’s results and straight away moved on from them. Due to the exceptionally tight time trial last year (only 1 second between Radley in 3rd and Abingdon in 8th) they had a disappointing NSR last year considering their win at Bedford Regatta over Bedford School who had just beaten Radley, only to then come 8th in the A Final. However, this led onto a superb Henley run where I imagine sheer hatred fuelled them past Bedford to face Eton in the semis. A good example of how to move on from a loss, and it seems that they’ve kept their momentum: setting a course record at the North of England Head and a 5th at Schools Head are good. But they want more. A more disappointing performance at Wallingford Regatta was quickly met with wins in Band 1 Open Eights, Band 1 J18 Eights and Band 2 J18 Eights at Bedford Regatta. A lot of work has gone into this NSR for Shrewsbury, and it will show. Returning Junior World’s representative Dominic Sullivan will no doubt bring his experience to play, but with half of the oarsmen replaced from last year, they may struggle to compare with some of the older crews.

Safe to say, Westminster gave the quad a good go last year: 3rd in Champ 4x at NSR and getting beaten by Windsor Boys on the Thursday of Henley. None of that quad have returned for Westminster’s 8 this year, and they only have their cox Alexander Foster and 5-man Gaspard Baroudel returning from their 8. They do however have 6 athletes who have moved straight from last year’s J16 8 to this year’s 1V. This makes Westminster probably one of the youngest eights racing and yet, the talent is there. Westminster sent an amazing 4 athletes to Munich International Regatta to race for GB, all of them Year 12’s. They have the talent but what Westminster probably lack is some experience. A promising 7th at School’s Head was expected for a school who hasn’t prioritised the 8 for a while, but their racing since has been limited: no shows at Wallingford, Bedford or Nott City can mean one of two things. Either Westminster are going to turn up to NSR with little experience and maybe suffer as a result, or their coaching team is hiding their speed ready for a big statement in the time trial. We’ll have to wait and see, but I sincerely hope it’s the latter, to fire up this racing season even more.

King’s Chester have made a huge step on from last year, probably the biggest of all this year’s Championship 8’s. At NSR last year they came 2nd in the C Final, not placing high enough in the Time Trial by 2 seconds to get a semi-final. However, that was a very young crew, and a year of rowing together seems to have worked well for them. Losing only Tom Ramsbottom to LSE the rest of the eight are all Upper 6th apart from Gregory Montgomery the bowman, making this an extremely well-oiled unit. KCS are another school hit hard by leaving upper sixth, with only Rufus King from last year’s eight remaining in the crew. The influx of plenty of talented J16s turn J17’s seems to not have affected them massively, coming 9th at SHORR ahead of Bedford, Hampton and Latymer. Recently they finished 3rd in J18 Eights at Nott City Regatta behind Monmouth and Abingdon, but ahead of King’s Chester. Last year saw them come 7th in the B Final at NSR, and they may struggle to make an A Final.

There are crews which people would consider to be dark horses, and then there’s Abingdon. They clearly have raw talent, as shown by Connor Brown making the Munich team, but we just haven’t seen much of them. They had to bail on School’s Head due to dangerous levels of wind making boat transport impossible, they didn’t race at Wallingford, and more recently they scratched their 1st 8 from Bedford Regatta. The only race they seem to have done is Nott City, where they have at least established themselves as clear from the Non-championship crews, beating Monmouth by a fair margin in J18 eights. We don’t really know what to expect from Abingdon, but they do have heritage in Championship 8’s. After all, it’s their 2013 record of 5:49.48 which still stands to this day. Hampton and Abingdon have been nip-and-tuck for years now, as both dominated the scene in the early 2010s and have now both dropped out of the medal zones. Hampton finished 12th at SHORR and more recently 3rd in School 8’s at Wallingford regatta; this puts them behind Pangbourne College in speed. With their neighbours LEH hitting it big in the girl’s scene, and coach Helen Taylor settling into the role, I’m sure Hampton will be on the rise in the coming years.

Latymer have had it rough. A promising season last year finishing 6th only 1 second ahead of Teddies and Shrewsbury was a good run for the boys on the Thames. But with only 3 returners plus cox Leah Thomas, the crew is young, and after not even racing a J16 eight last year they are again lacking in experience. The young Dominic Newton, still in L6th, must be mentioned for his Team GB success, however one man has little impact among 8. A similar fate as fallen upon St Edward’s School, and they have opted to race the 4 with the remaining athletes they have. We will see which of these strategies is better at the weekend. It’s good to see some variety in the championship entries away from the regulars, and Bryanston are a welcome change. Last year Bryanston didn’t even field any boys J18 boats, but they did race in J16 eights and quads, winning the C final and B finals respectively. With 5 oarsmen and a cox returning from their J16 eight, Bryanston could surprise some of the non-champ crews with a turn of speed from their 10th in 1st eights at SHORR, but won’t come too close to the rest of this category.

Non-Championship 8+

The Non-Champ 8+ event is always a thrilling category to watch. Every crew represents the hard work and dedication it takes from both the athletes and the coaches to take their crew to National Schools. Despite not having the resources to compete speed wise with the championship crews *cough Bedford cough*, you can watch each crew knowing for certain that they have worked no less hard to reach the stage they are at. Especially after such a tight finish at the Schools Head for first, ending with a tie in the top spot, every crew will know if they want a shot at a medal, they will have to stop at nothing to get it.

One of the front runners in this event is Monmouth. After coming 6th in the category last year, they set out with true determination at the Schools head, managing to take a joint 1st position with Winchester College. Featuring internationally experienced athletes such as Iwan Hadfield who has consistently performed superbly at trials, and coxed by Jack Tottem, this crew definitely has what it takes to win gold this weekend. After placing 2nd at the recent Nottingham City Regatta, just behind Abingdon, they should have full confidence going into this weekend that they can win gold.

Winchester last year didn’t even enter this category, opting instead for a 4+, which finished 3 seconds outside of a medal position. However, they returned at the Schools head in fantastic form, taking joint 1st with Monmouth. This fantastic placing should give them confidence that despite the fact that they seem to have kept their cards close to their chests. Despite the lack of racing experience side by side, this crew knows that they have the speed to compete with all the best crews.

Just behind these two at Schools head were Reading Blue Coat. Their only regatta racing seems to have been done at Wallingford regatta where they entered two coxed fours. Only one of these made final, finishing a solid 5th. This is a decent result for what I presume was their top four in an experienced field however if they want to be really competitive on Saturday, they will be forced to step up their game. They raced plenty in the Head Season, so they do have those Winter miles which are oh so important for a top crew.

Enniskillen are also making the trip over from Ireland again this year. They always perform well in this category after finishing 2nd last year in Non-Champ 8+, and much to the surprise of many they had to miss the medal presentations in order to catch their flight home! Pangbourne college are also likely to feature well this weekend after a win at the Wallingford regatta. They won J18 eights out of a field of mostly 2nd 8+ of schools like Radley and other Non-Champ 8+, including Kings School Chester who finished 6th and St Georges College who finished 5th. With the margin however only 5 seconds between 1st and 6th in that race however it is likely that this result could change. The last time Pangbourne won the sadly-no-more Child Beale Cup for Non-Championship 8’s, named after a wildlife park next to their boathouse, was in 2014, and this year could be their best chance since to win again. Bronze last year, hopefully Gold this year.

Bedford school have also entered in this event after an extremely dominant win last year, finishing 4th overall in a surprising turn of speed. They have lost a lot of top talent however, and leavers like Connor Sheridan and George Christian have left the crew not as fast as last year. It is no longer their top boat however, after having entered a top 4x. Similar to Westminster last year, they should be aiming to finish up there with the other crews, however it is likely they will struggle to make a medal position with their top 4 guys out the crew. A loss at Bedford Regatta to Shrewsbury may confirm this. A final mention goes to Norwich school. They finished 4th at the Schools Head after being billed as one of the crews who could win, and will hopefully have their eyes on a medal after winning the Schools 4+ last year. With a large number of GB vs France athletes in the crew and a passion to get back to the top of Non-Champ, Norwich are likely medallists.

Second 8+

The 2nd eights category this year looks like it should be a very competitive event with every crew having the potential to steal a medal, as opposed to last year where Eton stole the show. With every crew coming back from training camps and learning from the few opportunities that they had to race each other, everyone will know exactly what is at stake.

The crew from St Paul’s will definitely be aiming for nothing other than gold in this event, after a disappointing performance at Wallingford regatta where they failed to make the final of J18 eights despite a very close heat. This crew features a few names such as Joseph Rosenfeld in the stroke seat, who finished an impressive 6th at the GB Pairs Regatta a few weeks ago. However, this crew will be threatened by the likes of Shrewsbury school who were only 1.2 seconds behind them at the Schools head. In the heat of Wallingford regatta however Shrewsbury were overturned by St Pauls but only by a second. This small margin will have motivated them to make big gains in the past few weeks so who knows what they could do. Shrewsbury were also able to put down Abingdon fairly comfortably at Bedford regatta. Radley college are however looking the like the top crew coming into this weekend. They finished as the top 2nd eight crew at Wallingford regatta, around a second in front of both Eton and Hampton in an extremely tight final.

Radley came 4th in this event last year in a close final, so this is a good move forward for them. This defeat will surely motivate their two returners to try and overturn this result. Eton college, last year’s clear winners, will be trying to live up to the performance from the eight from last year. Their crew placed comfortably 3rd at the Schools head and fourth at Wallingford regatta. This is likely not quite up to the standard that they hoped to achieve but they won’t let this hold them back coming into this weekend.

No matter what the result is, what can be ensured is some very tight racing as shown by the times at Wallingford regatta. The difference between 1st and 4th may come down to nothing more than a second so whichever crew wins will simply be down to who wants it the most, and that can count for a lot in an event like this.

Third 8+

The third eights category is always a very enjoyable category to watch. With the crews not quite as experienced as their 1st or 2nd eights counterparts, the podium positions can change within a split second.

Although there aren’t too many races to go off due to the cancelation of this event at the Schools head of the river earlier in the year, the few races such as Bedford regatta may provide an insight into what may happen this weekend. Eton college certainly look to be one of the front runners coming into this weekend with a dominant win over both Bedford and Hampton at the recent Bedford regatta. Having won the event last year after a fantastic final 500m, they will want to repeat the feat. St Paul’s finished 3rd in this event last year in a close race after taking the win at the Schools Head. This crew was lucky enough to be given the chance to race time only at the Schools Head due to Abingdon scratching. They finished 10th in the 2nd eights category, just behind Bedford’s 2nd eight. This was a very solid result for the crew, and they will be hoping to go for the top spot this weekend. Radley college finished 2nd last year, just behind Eton. Radley always have a strong depth of squad and have kept their cards relatively close to their chests this year. There is no doubt however that this crew will be gunning to repeat their performance last year.

Championship 4+

After a relatively small field of J18 coxed fours so far this regatta season, NSR sees a comparatively huge turnout of 35 crews across Champ and Non-Champ 4+, with some very recognisable names firing off the page. So far this season we’ve seen Radley, Shiplake and St Paul’s all show their strength at Wallingford Regatta coming in with 6:43, 6:50 and 6:55 respectively. These three crews immediately alongside Eton will be the top performers here.
The Radley 4+ is missing their top 2 from trials as they prioritise the pair, but the experienced Theo Metcalf, Luke Miles and Alex Senior are all returners from last year’s 1V, and as their last ever Nat Schools race, they won’t pull any punches. Shiplake’s 4+ of Dom Brown, Seb Hjortland-Marks, Ben Brockway, Rhys Ash and cox Jacob Kirby is probably the most internationally experienced crew in the field, with all of the crew except Ben (who raced GB vs France) recently rowing at Munich International Regatta. Shiplake fielded matched 4’s recently at Wallingford Regatta and they were so well matched that they finished 0.15 seconds apart! Now with this four likely being the best from both those matched fours, this almost GB-level crew should be making the other schools very nervous.
Eton have also fielded a top 4+, consisting of James Hodson, Simon Nunayon, Max Shakespeare, Nathan Swidler and cox Oliver Perry. The other half of their 8, the first half going into the 4-, the worlds and coupe experience of Max and Simon will match this crew pretty evenly to their coxless counterparts Pearson and Watson-Gandy. However, this might affect their medal chances up against a first 4+ from Shiplake, but I imagine that silver and bronze will still be easily accessible, if gold is too much to ask for.

Latymer raced at Nottingham City putting in a time of 6:55 as well, but it looks like their top lads have gone coxless. We also see the likes of Kings College joining Eton and St. Paul’s with two boats and Monkton Combe, Hampton, Shrewsbury, Kings School Chester, Monmouth, St Joseph’s Ireland (who placed the 3rd fastest time in Non-Ch last year) and Abingdon all putting forward a boat, with various GB athletes appearing here and there; Connor Brown, Iwan Hadfield, Jack Tottem and Nicholas Pritchard to name a few. In summary, we can expect to see a tightly packed field about 6 minutes after 17:08 on the Sunday as the crews enter the final sprint for the Hedsor Cup.

Non-Championship 4+

Shifting focus to the Fours Cup, the event for Non-Champ 4+ where we see a couple of the Champ 4+ schools also entering boats such as Latymer, Radley and Monkton Combe but overall a predominately fresh field especially as we see none of last year’s top 3 (Norwich, Tideway and St. George’s) returning. Championship School’s entries into Non-champ 4+ are typically when a school doesn’t have enough boys rowing for a competitive 2nd or 3rd eight, which creates an interesting dynamic against the top crews from smaller programmes.
Some schools and clubs have entered their top boy’s crews in this category. Hinksey, Oratory School, Dulwich, Weybridge, George Heriot’s School and Kings Worcester have all entered their top boats into this category against the spares and reserves of many big-name schools such as Westminster, St Paul’s, Radley and Latymer. Surprisingly, this seems to be ASRA‘s (Aberdeen Schools Rowing Association) top crew as well, a change from their B-final 8+ last year. Typically, it’s the top boats of smaller programmes who triumph over the championship schools, but a crew like Radley might just take the win here, seeing the overarching success they have had lately. Westminster have also not entered a second 8+, instead racing a champ quad and school four, so I imagine that this crew will be of champ second 8+ standard – a very high standard that is. The Dulwich crew have raced a couple of times already in this combination, as last year’s winners Norwich did, so they may have gelled a lot better together than many of the crews here.

Championship 4-

The Royal Engineers’ Cup for Championship coxless fours will be the last race that many of the boys racing will have at National Schools, and that must play some role as to why it’s such a fantastic event to watch every single year. Many of these crews haven’t raced yet this year, and are instead comprised of schools’ eights simply split into fours. Who doesn’t love a bit of scratch racing?

Last year saw St Pauls win by 5.5 seconds ahead of Molesey, and we could see a repeat of that St Paul’s success this year. Their 2 fours look very strong, especially their “B” crew of Cameron Spiers, Tom Horncastle, Oliver Parish and Joseph Middleton. Tom and Oliver both won gold at Junior Worlds in the 8+ last year, so their elite racing experience will certainly be useful to this crew. The Eton “A” crew is comprised of the other half of their 8, and are not a definitive “1st and 2nd crew”. Henry Pearson and James Watson-Gandy stole the show at trials time and time again, and despite lacking their Worlds athlete from this boat, they will fly nonetheless.

KCS appear to have put out a top boat consisting of returner Rufus King from last year’s Championship 8+, and Munich Representative Jeff Gugelmann alongside his crewmates George Thompson and Calum Betteley from last year’s J16 8+ which finished an agonising 4th behind Abingdon. An interesting 4- in the form of St Edwards will be very closely watched as this has been their top boat for a while, only training in it as they lack the numbers for a competitive eight. Steered by Barnaby Singfield, son of coach Jonny, these boys could quite easily get the jump on the rest of the field – especially as they won’t have been racing the day before and will be far fresher on the start line. I imagine their trus tin their coaches and training programme will help them out massively.

Royal Shrewsbury also appear to have entered a top 4-, with last year’s returners Dominic Sullivan of Junior Worlds fame and Phoenix Lester, and newcomers Louis Nares and Ben Holehouse. The Shrewsbury boys, like Eton, didn’t have the most enjoyable time in their eight last year, getting on the awkward side of the time trial results, and after a very dominant run at Bedford Regatta recently will have that desire to win screaming through them. Westminster top off a very Championship-dominated category with every member of their 4 representing GB at Munich: Angus and James Stevenson, Adam Von Bismarck and Arnav Sawhney. After their brief break from eights to try out sculling, this year Westminster are back and keen to be fighting for spaces in the ultra-competitive Championship 8 A Final. This 4, while less renowned as others, is arguably the most talented based on rowing achievements. Watch out.

Other non-champ schools racing top fours include Winchester, Pangbourne, Enniskillen and Bryanston, and it’s always good to see the 1863 Club (formerly London Oratory School, Child Beale winners 2016) putting out presumably competitive crews. This category is literally filled to the brim with talent, and will be a fine close to the weekend of racing.