There are university crews racing in both the University Pennant and Challenge Academic events this weekend, as well as the now-scratched Beginner-Academic trophy for novice rowers. The University Pennant is for crews of Open and Senior status and tends to be crews at the top end of the draw, whereas the Challenge Academic event is for university crews of equivalent standard to the Intermediate events we saw at BUCS Head two weeks ago. There may be crews from the same university entered into different events or multiple crews in one event, though the Beginner Academic event is entirely separate although sadly these novices will have to wait another year for their Tideway debut. WEHORR was cancelled altogether last year, and although sadly this year it is running with a reduced draw due to difficult weather conditions, it is still good to see the event going ahead anyway. This means that this year’s draw is roughly based on results from two years ago and this length of time can be a significant period of turnover in university squads.
At the top of the draw we have Leander, who are followed by our first two university crews of the day, Cambridge A and Imperial A, with University of London A, Brookes A, Edinburgh A and Cambridge B making up the rest of the university cres going off in the top 10. These will be the crews looking to challenge for the overall headship, following the likes of Leander and Molesey down the course. The Cambridge crews are looking like the Blue Boat and Blondie crews for the Boat race at the end of this month, and should be extremely fast after several weeks of fixtures on the course against some of the very best opposition in the country. Their opposition for the Boat Race however are not joining them at the top of the draw, with the only Oxford crew starting off down in 52nd position suggesting that this is their reserve or third crew instead. Both the Oxford and Cambridge crews have taken part in fixtures against Oxford Brookes over the last weeks, and Brookes have demonstrated some pretty good speed at these occasions and could also be challenging for top positions.
Worth noting first of all is the large Scottish contingent coming down to race, despite being subjected to race cancellations, such as the Scottish Winter Challenge, and poor training conditions (though this is not unique to Scotland- it has been a tough few weeks for everyone!). As usual, Edinburgh can be expected to put down a very dominant performance this weekend following on from a silver medal in Champ Eights and a Gold in Champ Coxless Fours at BUCS. Glasgow University and St Andrews University make up the rest of the Scottish contingent at the top of the draw, with Glasgow performing extremely well to take Bronze in Champ Eights at BUCS and Gold in Champ 4+, as well as a win in Band 2 4- at Fours Head back in November, so we can expect them to be pretty fast this weekend. St Andrews have been a little under the radar so far this season, though a 3rd place in Band 1 Coxed Fours at Fours Head suggests there is experience and potential here. There are also a number of composite crews from Scottish universities, though as composites are ineligible for the University and Academic events, these crews are instead racing in the Senior category despite being university-affiliated clubs, and it will be interesting to see how the times compare.
BUCS Head two weeks ago has been the only opportunity to see how crews are shaping up at this point in the season and so the results from that windy weekend on the Tyne are probably our best indicator of what we can expect at WEHORR. Newcastle took the win in both the Championship and Intermediate women’s eights categories at BUCS, and they look set to do equally well this weekend with four crews surviving the cut proving their incredible strength in depth. Exeter also performed well at BUCS, taking second place there and with a larger-than-usual contingent from them we can expect to see good things from them this weekend as they have crews in both the University Pennant and Challenge Academic event who could do well.
Durham University are also capable of a good performance, with their 1st Eight placing 3rd in the Championship 8 category and their 2nd Eight placing 5th in Intermediate at BUCS. There are several college boat clubs entered from Durham, as well as a handful of Oxford and Cambridge colleges which are in the same situation, and so the crews representing the University should be the fastest of the bunch though all three universities have thriving rowing communities so are definitely capable of throwing up some surprises. Smaller university programmes, such as Leeds who train on a canal and Nottingham who have Holme Pierrepont, have had better luck in terms of training time on the water over the last month and this extra preparation could really help them achieve some good results this weekend as well.
Overall, I think we can all agree that it has been quite a difficult start to the year for the rowing community. With serious flooding and poor weather hampering training time, racing time and even, for some very unlucky clubs, damaging boats and facilities. WEHORR could throw up some really unexpected performances as there is very little to go off n terms of predictions so far, and how crews handle conditions on the day can play a huge part in results, especially on the Tideway. The loss of the Beginner Academic event is a particular shame and the scratching of crews with under 100 points, which has been particularly penalising for university crews with international students who may not have had a chance to race in this country yet amongst all the cancelled races, means this weekend’s event is a reduced size, though even to see it going ahead is a sign that things will get better this season!