The climax of the head season is soon upon us, where we will see months of preparation unleashed on the tideway for this year’s Schools Head of the River. In the blue ribbon event for the J16s, there will be a profusion of jousting for the medal spots; the top crews are certain to be separated by the slimmest of margins. The 6800m course will put crews’ steering, endurance and technique to the test, especially if aided by the weather! Westminster have consistently shown their strength this season with wins at Quintin Head and Hammersmith Head, so this crew will have their sights firmly set on winning Schools Head. However, a dominant margin over the other crews at Quintin were closed down by a considerable margin at Hammersmith Head. Should other crews continue to make ground on Westminster, we could see a much more heated battle for the win. The woes of Eton last year have been miraculously turned around with this crew emerging as a candidate to win a medal with a 2nd place finish at Hammersmith. Stroked by Boat Race winner William Geffen’s brother, Harry, the Etonians will certainly want to prove to everyone that their performance at Hammersmith wasn’tanomalous. Eton rarely disappoint in turning out fast crews; this crew’s miserable J15 campaign could be far behind them.
St. Pauls’ J16s look fairly strong, despite losing Joe Middleton to the 1sts; they will likely be right in the midst of the intense medal fight. This crew will be under the watchful eye of Bobby Thatcher, with these boys keen to feed into his very successful senior programme. Rowing on their home stretch, they will be looking to contend for a medal; otherwise there will be profuse sweating... Elsewhere, Teddies have made great strides and now see themselves in contention for a medal. Trailing Shiplake by 7 and 6 seconds respectively at Hammersmith and Reading, St Edwards will be hungry for a good result at Schools Head. Sheltered away south of Oxford, Abingdon School have kept their true speed quiet, with matched eights at Wallingford and Quintin. The Abingdonians didn’t have an ideal race at Hammersmith, with their A boat being well off the pace. However, nobody can quite work out the logic of their crews as entered, or how quick they really are, with absences likely to have hampered their crew selection. Despite this, Abingdon have good depth in their squad, and aren’t short of support from those higher up in the school, with significantly noticeable investment being made in the Boat Club. This crew shouldn’t be taken lightly, and could very well surprise many and join into an already very fierce fight for the top spots.
Shiplake’s J16s have had a promising season so far, with top 3 finishes at Quintin and Hammersmith and wins at Henley and Reading Uni Head. Dave Currie is a paragon in Junior Rowing, and has turned this crew around and put them back to the forefront of their category. The bees will be intent on fighting for the win, and will not back down from a battle for a second SHORR medal in a row; they will certainly have their hands “in the fire”, as famously said by their coach, with gaps between them and their rivals so far this year having been decided by less than tenths of a second. From far up north, Aberdeen are not to be forgotten. These rowers rarely venture out of Scotland, but when they do, they certainly aren’t there on holiday. Last year at Schools Head, this crew appeared out of nowhere to take a dominant win in the J15 category, with their time being up there in the top end of J16s and 2nd eights. However, their dominance soon tailed off, as seen at National Schools. Their top coach is no longer with them, and their previous dominance may be unlikely, but they certainly have the potential to contend for the top spot. Another wildcard entry, the Italians from Varese have made the trip from Italy to test themselves against Britain’s finest crews on the Tideway. It is uncertain as to how quick they really are, but they wouldn’t waste their time unless they believed they had a fair crack at a good result.
School’s Head, the first time many schools show their true deck of cards. Junior 16 Eights is often the point within one’s Junior rowing career that the men are separated from the kids. Obviously, these crews are racing first eights and so are not quite yet prepared to go head to head with the top rowing schools, or are out to win a medal. With J16 GB vs France match trials at the end of the year and one year of sweep rowing under their belts, all the major rowing schools will be
I’m slightly surprised to see this boat from Norwich entered into 1st 8’s and not Champ 8’s, given their recent successes as a crew. After a B final finish at National Schools’ last year, they’ve taken a considerable step up. Back in November at Wallingford, they won the J16 8+ event, beating crews from Westminster, Shiplake and Winchester. Most recently they came 6th at Hammersmith Head, beating many crews who are entered into J16 Champ 8’s. On account of this, I think Norwich are probably favourites for the win on Friday.
The King's College School J16’s clearly had a bit of a disappointing season last year, falling to an 18th place overall in J15 Champ 8’s at National Schools. From what I can see, they look like they’re in a similar situation this year, with a 14th place finish on their home stretch at Hammersmith Head two week ago. Although that was in J16 Champ 8’s, they were beaten by Norwich, Bedford and Dulwich, all three of whom are racing in J16 1st 8’s on Friday. Therefore, I’m not expecting anything too special from this crew. Bedford are a school who have always maintained their position as a dominant force on the 1st 8+ circuit, as shown by their J18 8+ last year, beating most Champ 8+ crews. Last year they came 16th in J15 Champ 8’s at NSR, similar to KCS. At Hammersmith, they managed a 12th overall in J16 8’s, beating Dulwich and KCS by 6 and 11 seconds respectively. However, they were 15 seconds behind Norwich who are racing in 1st 8’s- so although I expect them to be at the top end of the crews, I don’t
think they’ll be taking away a medal.
The current J16’s from Winchester College had a fairly successful season last year, placing 5th at Schools’ Head, and 6th at National Schools, both in J15 Champ 8’s. This year however, their coaches have clearly decided to take the step down into 1st 8’s, given that they are racing in this event. So far this season, they haven’t appeared quite as fast as they did last year- with a fairly low placed finish at Wallingford 4’s and 8’s in November their only result at a major event as an eight, apart from a dominant win at Avon County Head. I can’t be sure what to expect from this crew, whether Schools Head will be a hit or a miss for them, I would expect them to be towards the top. St. Georges College may surprise us this year, with a win in 1st Eights at Schools Head as J15’s last year. However, a 4th place finish in the B-Final of National Schools means we can’t be sure whether their program has facilitated a movement into the highly competitive J16 event. These will be the ones to watch, with their lack of attendance at the main events this year, they could be holding back their cards or simply unconfident of their power. Schools Head will be great test of speed for them, hoping to equal their position from last year.
Reading Blue Coat are going out the blocks 4th , scratched from Hammersmith, I cannot be sure what to expect from this crew. Behind them come Bedford Modern School, then Monmouth School, both crews not racing a huge amount in the season so far. Team Keane Sculling School and Dulwich College are going off last and will hopefully be battling there way through the race. Judging by the unconventional start order, the crews could come out somewhat reshuffled by the boathouse strip. Coxes should beware of overtakes, especially in the tricky conditions that Friday is lining up to be.
With news of reduction of the entry size at school's head, the School Junior 16 Second Eight's category hasn't been cancelled and therefore on Friday we can expect to see some fierce competition from these rowers, of whom many are hoping to break into their respective squad's Championship Eight crew for the regatta season. Hampton came 2nd last year at SHORR, falling short to KCS Wimbledon, who's home stretch is on the Tideway. With no KCS boat entered, they will take huge confidence going into Friday, believing they can take the headship for their category. Westminster are clear favourites after an excellent performance at Hammersmith Head and a dominant regatta season last year winning NSR by roughly 10 seconds. However, their lack of speed in the winter of last season, could be an indicator of their lack of expertise to racing head races. With many pundits already suggesting Westminster J16 Championship eight will be dominating in the summer, it is no surprise to any that their second eight is also relatively extremely quick.
Eton's J16 Championship Eight were second at Hammersmith, showing to many the ability that Eton have to transfer their rowers into athletes during the J16 year. Therefore, I would expect their second eight to be pushing for the medal positions at SHORR, compared to them being quite behind the rest of the field last year during the head season. Radley, St Georges, Team Keane and Bedford complete the field. I don't expect any of these crews to be winning the head due to the formidable Championship Eight School's having depth in this category, but I do expect some exciting and competitive racing.
In this years J16 quads category at the Schools Head of the River, there are 16 crews entered. To see how these crews are looking ahead of this Friday, recent results on the same stretch of the Tideway should be good indicators of their speed. Last week was Hammersmith Head, where Tideway Scullers won convincingly over Kingston Grammar School who placed second then, and who also have a quad entered into this category. After recent success and racing on home water, it seems likely that Tideway Scullers are going to be the crew to beat this week. Another fast crew will be Wycliffe College, whose top J16 double won here during Pairs Head in October, and who won silver in J15 quads at National Schools Regatta last year.
Sir William Borlase have good speed in this age group, evidenced by their good performances last summer and a win at Reading Head, so they are also likely to be a fast and well-drilled crew. St Paul's, even though they are mostly known for their strong Senior and J16 Champ Eights have put out a quad into the J16 competition. They shall be racing on home water as well, giving them a good advantage against the rest of the field. The two crews coming down from Durham, Durham School and Durham ARC, both showed strong results at the JIRR North trials with Durham ARC coming first and Durham School coming second. Durham School also came sixth at National Schools last year, suggesting this is a well established and well drilled school crew who could also do well down on the Tideway. Other crews who are likely to perform well on Friday are Maidenhead and Hinksey, the latter who took the win in this category at Avon Spring Head, but the top positions will most likely be fought out between Wycliffe, Tideway, Borlase and St Paul's. Hopefully this year's competition will be as quick and close fought as it was last year.