Oxford and Cambridge’s Trial Eights races whetted the appetite for a great BNY Mellon Boat Race next Spring as they both produced competitive clashes over the Championship Putney to Mortlake course.
OUBC Hurricane v Spitfire
Oxford’s Hurricane and Spitfire fought out a real dogfight, with a boat-stopping clash and just 2 seats separating the crews at the finish of a classic trial race.
Hurricane, with GB Olympic medallist Constantine Louloudis at six backing up returning Blue Alex Woods at seven and American William Zeng at stroke, won the toss and chose Surrey.
But it was Spitfire, with Canadian Olympic gold and silver medallist Malcolm Howard at stroke, backed by Dark Blues President Alex Davidson at seven, who were first to show on the near perfect Tideway water.
They had a canvas at the Town Buoy rating 36 to Hurricane’s 35, and had stretched out to 1/2L at Barn Elms.
Passing Fulham football ground, the advantage was 3/4L, where Hurricane pushed to deny them more before the river straightened.
At the Mile Post, race umpire Boris Rankov – a six-time Oxford Blue – warned Spitfire to move back to Middlesex as Hurricane started to close. And Louloudis’ crew were back to 1/3L at Harrods Depository, rating 36 to Spitfire’s 35, where Rankov was still busy with his flag, this time warning Hurricane to move as the river began to swing their way.
At Hammersmith Bridge there were just feet in it. And despite being warned again, Hurricane now hit the front and were out to 1/2L at St Paul’s boathouse. Spitfire dug in to stay in touch and were holding on when 10 strokes before Chiswick Eyot, the crews clashed, Hurricane seven man Woods losing his blade. By the time he had recovered, at the second attempt, a 1/2L lead had become a 3/4L deficit and Spitfire immediately pushed to try and take clear water.
But Hurricane showed resilience and calmness under pressure to stay in contact as the river began to turn the leaders’ way, and were still overlapping at Barnes Bridge.
Spitfire were warned again as they tried to push Hurricane wide and still had 3/4L with 400m to race. But Hurricane pushing up to 39 began to close in for the kill, and Spitfire, up to 40, needed everything to hold them off, crossing just two seats to the good in 17 minutes 25 seconds.
Oxford chief coach Sean Bowden said: “I’m really pleased with that. Both crews gave a really good account of themselves and made it a great race. We’ve got some inexperienced college oarsmen who were put under real pressure in a race that went down to the wire and they held up well. The clash was obviously a key point, as the crew that loses out in a situation like that always thinks they could have gone on and won it, but it was shaping up to be a really close race anyway. It shows we’ve got a good competitive squad.”
He added: “I don’t think the clash was down to aggressive steering, it was almost bad luck that they just touched, neither crew was to blame. But Hurricane stayed in the race and both crews made it a great finish. We know we’ll put out a fast boat next Spring, but we also know that Cambridge have got massive strength in depth. So we’ll go away now and keep preparing really hard, with a X-country skiing camp in Switzerland next week and then a rowing camp in Temple-sur-Lot in France over New Year.”
CUBC Bangers vs Mash
With no fewer than seven Blues on show, Cambridge’s Bangers and Mash provided mouth-watering fare racing an hour later on the higher tide, with both boats featuring four and five on bowside in tandem rigs.Bangers, stroked by American Blue Niles Garratt and backed up by Czech Olympian Milan Bruncvik and US Blue Stephen Dudek at seven and six, won the toss and picked Surrey.
But Mash, with GB Olympic medallist and Cambridge president George Nash at five, were off quickest, passing the Town Buoy 1/2L up with both crews settling to 36.It was almost 1L at Craven Cottage where umpire Boris Rankov warned Mash as they tried to push Bangers across, with several minor clashes between the crews’ blades as they passed Barn Elms.
Just as Mash threatened to move clear, Garratt rating a stroke higher than the opposition began to push his crew smoothly back on terms, drawing level just before Harrods Depository.
Mash, stroked by Australian Alex Fleming, and backed up at seven by another Australian and returning Blue Alexander Scharp, were warned again as Bangers moved out to a 3/4L lead at Hammersmith Bridge. President Nash missed half a stroke as the crews hit lively water and Mash desperately fought to stay in touch.
Nearing Chiswick Eyot, Garratt pushed for clear water at 36 strokes a minute and Bangers’ cox Henry Fieldman, who learnt his craft on the Tideway at Latymer School, steered across to take Mash’s water.
Coming up to Chiswick Steps, the lead was 1 1/2L where a brave Mash push brought them back to within feet of an overlap by the Bandstand. But Bangers resisted the move, and looking long and flowing at 34 they now eased clear, going under Barnes Bridge some 3L to the good.
Cruisers at the finish made for some choppy water as a PLA boat quickly ushered them out of the way of the racing crews. But Bangers coped comfortably, crossing the line four lengths to the good in 17.46.
Cambridge chief coach Steve Trapmore said: “It was very competitive up to the Crossing until Bangers got away, and I think both crews showed a lot of good things, though there are also some weaknesses we can work on. I think the key point was pretty early on, to be honest, at Barn Elms, where Mash were unable to push home their advantage – if you’ve had a good start, you have to make it count. Bangers rowed well for their victory, but I give Mash great credit for the courage they showed in the middle of the race to stay in it. They almost got back to an overlap, so the fact that they worked together to come back and do that was impressive.“
The Sydney 2000 Olympic gold medallist added: “We’ve got a lot of people back this year, but Oxford showed some real strength at the Fours Head, so we’re under no illusions, we’ve got a big job to do to find our way back.” Asked about the cruisers blocking the final run-in, he added: “It’s not ideal, but both crews coped well with the water. I love the Trial eights – I think it’s a great experience and test for the rowers and part of a big training phase we are now undergoing, which we will take on to our New Year training camp in Banyoles.”