This weekend sees the majority of men's domestic rowing clouded by the prominence of Henley Women's Regatta over this weekend, which is a great demonstration of the depth of women's rowing growing every year in the UK and abroad . That being said, Marlow acts as a crucial indicator for most crews wishing to compete at Henley Royal Regatta in two weeks time, while offering crews the last opportunity to earn a seeded spot for the 5-days of racing.
Similar to the Met Regatta, Championship Eights at Marlow has attracted entries from clubs, universities and schools, providing crews opportunities for crews to race eights of similar speed, who they would often not race due to categories and the yearly schedule for each boat club with different priorities.
Storming to a National School's victory with J16 Joseph Middleton in the stroke seat, and lacking the rowing prowess of World Champion Ollie Parish, St Paul's are likely to dominate the school boy crews in this event as they hope to emulate last year's crew in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup. Having said that, their performance at Met saw Radley College finish a few seconds ahead of Paul's. After Radley's flying start in the NSR time trial, their eventual bronze medal came as a bit of a disappointment, but their performance at Met will have brought back some confidence. The SPS crew looked to have a few crew changes from Nationals, including a cameo from two-time Boat Race winner and old Pauline Freddie Davidson. It would be interesting if they have indeed decided to make some crew changes given their success at NSR, taking the win in Championship Eights for the third year on the trot. While they may have been a fresh lineup at Met, some are doubting that the change was for the best. There's no doubt, however, that Director of Rowing Bobby Thatcher has proven himself as one of the greatest coaches of our time, and perhaps of all time. Last year's crew set a new benchmark for schoolboy rowing and the impressive legacy Bobby has built at the club only grows with each year. We can only wait and trust his judgment, but Radley's row at Met was impressive and certainly shows that they have more left to say. Someone might just be sweating.
Shiplake, Eton and Monmouth, came 2nd, 5th and 6th respectively at National School's Regatta, with Monmouth securing domination in Non-Championship's Eights. Eton were third at Met behind Paul's and Radley and judging by the 1500m splits, their margin on Paul's was not greatly changed from NSR. This might hint that Radley have found some speed and Paul's will now have to work to make up that margin. Eton were right up there back at School's Head, finishing second in a tight pack alongside Shiplake and Paul's with a good twenty seconds of breathing space ahead of Radley. The latter seem to have characteristically made a strong step on as regatta season goes on, and we can't forget that Eton made significant progress last season from NSR onto Henley. Only time will tell if they are set to do the same this year.
Shiplake being thrown back into the picture this weekend will be exciting to say the least. Silver medallists at NSR with a second separating them from Paul's and Radley on either side, Shiplake have been lying low over the past few weeks and this weekend we will see how they slot back into the chase for the PE. It may be advantageous that they've kept their cards close to their chest, and Paul's will have to hope that they too haven't made a step on like Radley.
Monmouth have had a phenomenal season, and while they were a little way off the pace at NSR of the schools already mentioned, they've only gone from strength to strength throughout the year. They've proven that a smaller school can very much be competitive with some of the big names and we're excited to see how their Henley campaign carries out after their much deserved win at Nationals.
King's College are the final school in the draw for Saturday. They finished 8th in the A final at NSR, just sneaking under the 6 minute mark to make them the fastest crew the Wimbledon based school has ever seen. They made the Thursday at Henley last year, being beaten by eventual finalists Eton, and are likely aiming to do the same (or better) this year.
From the PE we turn now to the club eights, with Thames RC head coach Ben Lewis looking to culminate his six years with Thames in his final Henley campaign representing the men from Putney. His 2 crews at Marlow will look to test their speed against other crews likely to be in the Thames Challenge Cup. Thames have won the aptly named event for the past two years and will want to make it three in a row, as well as a sixth HRR victory under Ben. They didn't show their face at Met, but looking back at HORR their top boat was only three seconds ahead of Kingston's A crew. This weekend will show how each crew's 2k pace has developed.
Both Kingston and Agecroft Rowing Clubs will be looking to lay a marker down, with Remenham member Kingston looking at potentially qualifying two eights into the Thames at HRR, with one boat of junior athletes and the other of older senior athletes. Molesey's Thames offering for this year finished five seconds or so ahead of Agecroft at Met, who in turn were three seconds ahead of Kingston and a long way clear of Vesta and Lea. We will have to see where Thames fits into the picture, but given their history, it wouldn't be a surprise if they've got a quick crew up their sleeve. Tom Portsmouth is back in this crew after winning the event last year, while Mike Trevena of the winning Brit crew is sitting at seven ahead of junior worlds medallist Ryan Beeler. Thames look to be putting another win in this event pretty high on their list of priorities.
As far as this weekend goes, the club contingent on this draw will be looking to prove themselves not only among the universities, but the schools too. It would'nt surprise us to see a couple of these schools showing the older club athletes how it's done.
Arguably favourites for the overall are Oxford Brookes University, a name that prompts knowledge of fast eights and incredible depth among any rower (cue Dambusters video). Henry Bailhache-Webb alongside assistant coach Ben Murphy has moulded a programme which just seems to work. Its proof is in its depth at races, where they flaunt their fleet of seemingly endless pachers filled with streams of accomplished athletes. It will be interesting to see the depth of schoolboy rowing laid out on the table as we answer questions as to how far the top junior athletes are behind the likes of Brookes and Leander. Last year this was only 2 seconds, with the St Paul's triple-winning crew finishing somewhat worryingly close behind social media personality Cam Buchan's Leander Ladies' eight.
Leander, who have a hard earned reputation for culturing and developing countless cases of GB potential, will be bringing their A game to compete with the boys from Cholsey. Most likely, this crew will be the near finished product by Leander for the Ladies' Plate, but what will be interesting to see is if Leander have the depth to compete competitively in both the eight and the four at Henley Royal Regatta: something they failed to do last season with an all Brookes final in the Ladies' Plate. The Brookes 1v held a comfortable four second margin over Leander at Met, and while there's still a little way to go til Henley, one would suspect Leander are more than a little worried. Quentin 'Monaco Man' Antognelli has since returned to the Brookes crew after focusing on national team trials, and like Thames, Brookes will have their sights firmly set on making it a third Henley win in a row for their top eight.
What was not as comfortable a margin at Met for Brookes came in the shape of none other than Brookes B. After the home favourites lost out in the Temple final to a rapid crew from the University of Washington, these guys are determined to make this their year in the academic eights event at Henley. Pipping the Ladies' eight by half a second in the Met TT was quite a tease from the homegrown young blood, and going on to beat the Leander Ladies' crew was a statement in its own league. With Brookes athletes Morgan Bolding and Rory Gibbs taking on World Cup II with the GB Rowing Team this weekend, with the latter back in the same four that took gold at the European Championships a few weeks ago, Brookes are starting to challenge Leander as 'the' feeder into the national squad. Being beaten by the Temple boys will be strong motivation for Leander to up their game, whose Ladies' crew is not short of talent. This only speaks volumes about the calibre of the Temple offering from Brookes this year, who are certainly firm favourites...from this side of the pond at least.
Besides Brookes, the Marlow Championship Eights draw is completed by another five Temple crews. Imperial College had an awesome Henley campaign last year in the Prince Albert Challenge Cup, coming from a long way down in a cracker of a heat with Durham to eventually take the win and bring the PA home. They've opted to contest the Temple this year, and while they were the second fastest university crew at Met, a hefty fifteen second margin separated them from Brookes. Much like we saw in the P.E last year with Paul's, Brookes are just in a different league this season and will unavoidably leave many high-quality crews in their shadow. While another Henley win may be looking unlikely for IC, these guys have proved themselves as a classy crew and if the draw treats them favourably they could well be within touching distance of the Henley weekend.
Newcastle are another strong Temple crew. They beat IC by around a second back at BUCS to take the bronze medal in Ch 8+, but this in turn means they too will most likely be a fair way off Brookes. Newcastle's Will Stewart and Cormac Molloy did fantastically at final trials to finish as the top U23 pair, the only U23s to squeeze into the B final, which is a credit to the strength of the programme as a whole. They were only half a length short of Brookes in the Temple semis last season and will look to equal or better this result in this year's campaign. The blue star boys are potentially the biggest domestic challenge for Brookes.
The University of London have their work cut out going into Henley this year. Their underwhelming sixth in Ch 8+ was a bit of a fall from grace after previously making it back to back silvers as the last university to come between a Brookes 1-2 at BUCS. They managed to close what was a near thirteen second margin behind local rivals IC at BUCS to only nine seconds at Met, but it doesn't look like this is UL's year. Judging by the name's on this entry, UL have entered a top four so this eight will likely struggle to be competitive.
Edinburgh have an entry at Marlow, but after missing out on the BUCS final after coming last of the seven crews in the time trial, they will likely struggle to be competitive amongst this field of fast university crews. Oxford University Lightweights are the final crew on this draw. They were victorious in the lightweight boat race this year and managed a bronze in the Ch Lwt 8+ at BUCS, but their time was some way from the heavier open weight crews so they will probably find themselves in the mix of the schools and clubs this weekend.