Coming into Nat Schools, it’s looking like a very pink final in champ quads. Leander have dominated all throughout this season with fantastic results at events such as The Scullery (s), Junior Sculling Regatta and Wallingford. In fact, it’s hard to write lots about them because this year the only results they’ve had have been wins! Their convincing 8 second win over Claires Court and Henley at Wallingford has really affirmed their status as the crew to beat this year. The Leander quad features two returners from last year in the form of Joe Willis and stroke Tim Eilers. Benjamin Smeeton and Matthew Peters have been replaced by Miles Devereux, fresh back from Munich, and Alexander Milne. Leander’s programme is exceptional, ensuring the highest quality of water and training year-round, and it really is showing here. The more experienced faces of Joe and Tim finished 4th in this event last year a mere 0.5 seconds behind Westminster’s quad, and were then knocked out at Henley in the semis by Maidenhead. Nothing is a greater drive to bounce back than coming 4th, and I’d imagine that Leander’s clear-cut lead will hold off any charges from the other quads.
The battle for the Henley stretch is well underway in champ quads, as it appears that Leander’s main competition is the club a mere 500m upstream. Henley Rowing Club, more associated with their girl’s programme nowadays, went generally unnoticed at last year’s NSR when they won J16 quads ahead of Claires Court School. 2 of that crew, Edward Roy and Seth O’Connor have made the step up this year to join returning Balthasar Issa and Marlow turncoat Joe Long. As seems to always be the case with these championship crews, the GB representation is inevitable, with Balthasar and Joe both racing at Munich International Regatta. There have been few events with both Henley and Leander racing and in the weeks between The Scullery and Wallingford Regatta, Henley have closed the gap between the crews. However, they just don’t seem to be closing it fast enough. At Wallingford they were just pipped across the line by Claires Court, but still comfortably ahead of Lea. Gold at NSR would require something very special, but a Silver or Bronze is easily within their reach.
The best word to describe Bedford School’s entry into championship quads is probably “Rogue”. One would imagine that after last year’s fantastic performance in the eight that Bedford would want to springboard off that momentum. Alas, not to be. Their top 4 athletes including trials representative Trent Abraham generally have less sculling experience that the other crews entered in this category. His pair partner Alex King has stuck to the eight, losing some potential speed there. Bedford have dabbled in sculling in the past, with their quad acting as a second boat racing in the C Final in 2017, and sending a quad to Henley Qualifiers last year. Both with little success, this year’s effort should prove more fruitful. A decent performance at The Scullery and a win at Bedford Regatta will have the Bedford Boys’ hopes high coming into NSR, but confidence can be a killer.
One of the great rowing rivalries of recent times was between Windsor Boys’ School and Claires Court School, and the Fawley Finals of 2016 and 2017 are races I’d highly recommend you watch if you haven’t already. So, it was disappointing to see Claires Court fall off the map last year, just missing out on the Semi-Finals and thus winning the C final. But it looks like Claires Court are back in action. Their seemingly sudden 2nd place at Wallingford Regatta, only 8 seconds behind Leander, demonstrated a frankly enormous step on from their 19th place at The Scullery. This quad is comprised of 3 members of last year’s silver medal winning J16 quad. A young crew, they already have shown a marked improvement over a very short period of time, and if this year isn’t theirs then the 3 L6th will no doubt make a statement next year.
Lea Rowing Club are not necessarily renowned in junior rowing, perhaps unfairly, as they do consistently put out decent crews as a club their size should. Their Fawley quad last year did well and only very narrowly lost out to Globe RC, and their WJ18 quad has been doing very well for themselves this season. A very respectable 4th at Wallingford Regatta currently puts them just behind Henley and Claires Court, and this is a position they’ve maintained all year; even months ago at the Scullery they finished 3rd. Lea are just within reach of the medals still despite the late surge from Claires Court, and with top talent like Louis Powell and Lea returner Jasper den Dulk, we can be confident in a high result for Lea, especially given their consistency throughout the year.
One of the smaller divisions the Politzer Trophy for Second Quads on the Saturday will see 13 crews race for 12 positions in the finals. Unlucky for one.
The Walton J17 crew of James Casemore, Oliver Brew, Aidan McLennan and Patrick Cleary come off the back of Casemore and Cleary winning j17 2x at the scullery by 5 seconds over TSS’s Julius Fenton and James Foley who join Hamish Murray and Cyprian Davies to be racing a 4x in this event. Will we see a similar close fought battle now that the doubles have moved into quads?
We also see some strong quads from Leander of Tristan Grainge, Joseph Murphy, Stephen Hughes and Paul Hoeselbarth and Windsor Boys of Robert Smith, Joseph Gater, Kieran Hennessy-Hunt and Ben Liddell. Joe Murphy it is worth noting is an exceptional sculler who has performed very well at trials, but has been restricted this year by injury. Both clubs have a strong history of junior quads, Will we see one of them come through in 1st place or will someone else fight for the trophy. The rest of the field is made up by Claire’s Court, Wallingford, Lea, Magdalen College, Neptune RC Ireland, St Peters School, Hartpury, Emanuel and Henley. All of whom we wish the best of luck to and can’t wait to see them race especially considering the large amount of J17’s racing it will be exciting to see the first hints of what we may see in the Championship sculling categories next year!
Championship doubles, being the day after the quads, features many of the same athletes from the quads with very few newcomers, so the results will likely pan out to be very similar. An immediate eye-catching double is that of Leander’s Tim Eilers and Miles Devereux. With their other pair racing in singles, it’s up to these lads to bring home the win for Leander. It’s looking like a local derby as I imagine that their biggest threat will be the Henley Rowing Club double of Balthasar Issa and Joe Long: both GB athletes and both exceptional scullers together. A handful of Irish entries from Enniskillen and St Michaels shouldn’t prove troublesome for the top contenders, and while clubs such as Tideway Scullers, Walton, Hartpury and Wallingford consistently produce top scullers, but a lack of top results and noticeable names, which does play a large part, doesn’t indicate a very competitive field.
J18 Champ Coxless pairs is looking to very exciting this year. Not many regattas leading up to National Schools have offered a pairs category so there are only a handful of results to go off. However, Weybridge, based on the Thames, snuck a third in Challenge pairs at Wallingford regatta so Tim Johnson and Louis McLeod could be underdogs to sneak a medal at national schools on the Sunday. Walton, the club next to Weybridge, has also entered a pair with Ratthew Heywood the stroke coming 2nd in Ch2- at pairs head, so him and his partner James McMullan will be excited for this year and the high prospect of medalling. Matthew raced at Coupe in the 8 while James raced at Home Countries, so both have international experience and experience together racing in the Wyfold last year. Similarly, Enniskillen, who came 2nd place last year behind Aberdeen Schools have entered a pair for this year as well.
From the Championship schools, the top Radley pair of Felix Rawlinson and Edward Rae Smith looks dangerous after their trials success (beating the now faster Walton pair by 5 seconds), Bedford School have entered 3 pairs with their pair of Alex King and Trent Abraham promising to shake things up, and The Kings School Chester crew’s experience in this event should place them highly. They could be exciting prospects as seem to always do well on the Sunday of national schools. Anyhow, this category should prove exciting due to the majority of crews having few results in the pair, and with 26 crews overall there is sure to be some intense racing between some big junior names and some relative unknowns.
Currently billed as the top sculler entering this competition, Julian Van Gelderen is one of two returners from last year’s A final alongside Chester le Street’s Joseph Adamson. Since coming last in the A Final last year, Julian has been working hard and it’s clearly paid off. Currently the top sculler in town, Julian’s meteoric rise this year has seen him winning trials, representing Team GB at GB vs France, Munich International Regatta AND Junior European Championships, and making short work of practically all competition at regattas. What’s even more surprising is that Julian is still only a J17 with another year of sculling ahead of him. An incredible talent, Julian is expected to come out on top and could even have a chance of breaking the regatta record. And if not this year, then next looks promising.
Leander seem set to dominate championship quads, and as is the case in most crew boats, a large helping of individual talent plays a large part. Leander’s quad is not short on individual talents such as Tim Eilers and Milex Devreux, who have entered into Championship doubles. The other half of their quad, Alex Milne and Joe Willis, have both entered into championship singles and look set to do well for themselves. Alex Milne raced in this event last year under Glasgow Academy where he came second in the B final behind his now-teammate Leander’s Joseph Murphy. Alex is Leander’s A sculler, so he’d better not get beaten by close competition Joe Willis.
Gloucester Hartpury are one of the premier sculling institutions in the country as their programme encompasses both school and university rowing. Their junior women in particular have won the Diamond Jubilee every year from 2014 to 2017. While their men haven’t replicated the same success in the Fawley, there’s no denying that Hartpury are on track to rival the sculling giants of Reading and Windsor. Rob Kilgour is a product of this programme with some excellent results to show: 2nd place at the Junior Sculling Regatta behind Leander’s Tim Eilers is no mean feat. Rob spent last year in Gloucester’s Championship 8+ with little success, so hopefully this year he can get a medal.
Agecroft are known as one of the best clubs in the north of England, with far fewer top schools and clubs than the Upper Thames Valley, instead rowing out of Salford Quay. Agecroft also consistently produce top scullers, recently sending Graeme Thomas and Zak Lee-Green to European Championships. Hailing as a GB start athlete, Paul Phillips has made his mark on this year by joining the JM Sculling team and with top results at a smattering of regattas. While he hasn’t directly raced against many of the athletes in this final, his Munich experience is enough of a telling as to how fast he is.
The only other returning A Finalist from last year’s race, Joseph Adamson beat Julian to 5th place. Unlike Julian However, Joseph hasn’t been incorporated into this year’s Munich team, an unfortunate but of bad luck to end up a 1-year junior with such talent. Joseph was paired up with Laurence Joss from Tideway Scullers and raced in the Mens 2x at Junior Worlds and at Munich International Regatta last year. An unfortunate side effect of the British rowing age system, this year Joseph has remained relatively quiet, not racing at Wallingford, JSR or Nott City, although an interesting composite at Reading University Head alongside Windsor Boys and Durham University raised some eyebrows. His absence on the GB scene has allowed him to remain mostly under the radar, but he will be gunning for gold and I imagine be Julian’s top rival, after all he’s already beaten him once.