What’s different from last year?
The rule change at National School’s Regatta removes The Child Beale First 8+ category and replaces it with a non-trophy event, named NonCh8+. Schools which enter NonCh8+ can only enter four athletes into Championship events on Sunday. You can read more about the rule changes for 2018 here.
Who will take the medals?
We expect St Paul’s to take gold. A lot of eyes were on them at School’s Head, in such a way that anything other than a storming victory would have been a loss for them, in the eyes of spectators, due to the immense expectations. But, they could take the pressure then, and after a productive early season’s racing, we see no reason why they wouldn’t be able to take the pressure come 19:00 on Saturday as the whole NSR crowd gathers at the bank to watch the spectacle of the Ch8+ A final come down the track. After a solid 20 second win at School’s Head and a consolidating show of speed in both the 8 and the 4s at Wallingford, St Paul’s could only have progressed from their dominance at School’s Head.
The only question is, if St Paul’s showed no sign of stagnating, have Shiplake or Eton done enough to make up the difference? There are limited results to go off, and it looks like both programs are keeping their cards close to their chest.
A dark horse could come in the form of Shrewsbury. Three seconds off Eton’s second 8 may seem poor, but if you consider the tiny gap between Eton’s 1st and 2nd boats at School’s Head, and pair it with their clear dominance at Bedford Regatta, you get a sense that they may be able to challenge for the podium. Having said this, Abingdon were only 1 second behind Shrewsbury at Wallingford in a different race.
Therefore, we predict that St Paul’s will take the top spot, followed by a close fight between Eton and Shiplake, but Abingdon and Shrewsbury won’t quite be able to compete for medals but will engage in what may be a crucial battle for 4th with Henley Stewards keeping an eye out for selection for seeding and pre-qualification. Hampton will be tight behind, fighting for the lower places with whoever seizes the initiative in the A/B semi. It could be the first A final in a long time for a lot of programs!
How has the rule change affected entries to J18 eights?
The big names evidently have not been affected. The likes of St Paul’s, Shiplake and Eton will not struggle with this rule change. Where crews are affected, and where debate may arise, is surrounding smaller schools such as Bedford Modern School.
BMS have entered Ch4+ and Ch4- on Sunday, meaning they are forced into the Ch8+ category. Now, a less established rowing club will have to compete in an event evidently above their standard. This will never be good for developing programs, as the feeling of constantly being below the medal standard can be extremely disheartening for both athletes involved at the J17/18 level, and future athletes moving up from competitive J14-J15 squads, into categories where being competitive is close to impossible, with limited support behind the boat clubs. However crews who are able to field two or more competitive Championship 4s are not to be seen as Child Beale level crews, and clubs who used to take significant advantage of the old system were the reason why the changes were made this year.
Crews such as Enniskillen, who are travelling quite a distance, may wish to race, say, a four and a pair on Sunday. But, this would force them to race in a category they’re not ready for. The first 8 category has been a great springboard for many programs, including that of Shiplake, who continue to impress, and forcing crews out of the category seems counterintuitive.
One can only speculate about Great Marlow School’s plans for Sunday’s racing. Despite performing well at School’s Head, Wallingford and Bedford Regatta, and having the funds for a top of the range Hudson USP, they have still opted for NonCh8+. Recent rumours show a new purchase of a USP 4+, to go alongside their ex-Canada 8+, and with them entered in Champ 4+ on the Sunday, hint that their athletes who raced at Bedford Regatta against Shiplake College will be the crew in this event.