Cambridge Men vs The Dutch
By Tom Ransley
Selection is ongoing. That is the mantra chiming through both University boathouses. So, fixtures that pit the first draft iterations of Blue Boats against external opposition are a chance to prove one’s right to a much-coveted place in the top boat, and a steppingstone to finessing the crew before lining up against the other side on Boat Race Day.
The light blue men met with international opposition on the Championship Course, over two pieces that split the length of the Boat Race in half. A scratch development Eight had been flown in to race from Putney Bridge to the top of the Eyot, and then from the Eyot to the University Post at Chiswick. For the first piece, the Dutch took the Surrey Station and Cambridge were on Middlesex.
A slick, quick start saw both crews get away cleanly. Twelve strokes in, Umpire Antony Reynolds was called into action as the crews converged. “We were a little bit taken aback by the speed the Dutch had coming on to rhythm,” Cambridge cox Jasper Parish later admitted. Along the Fulham Wall the Dutch looked to be the more threatening of the two crews, but the Light Blue’s buttery rhythm belied their underlying speed and ferocity of intent.
Again, a chorus of warnings from Reynolds as oars interlocked two and a half minutes into the race. Cambridge came off better. The first bend proved pivotal. Former St. Paul’s boy Parish, who has outcoxed his President (Ollie Boyne) for a shot at the Blue Boat, squeezed the Netherland’s Sara Kalf wide around Fulham Football Club. “The wind was tricky. At the first corner there were big waves and Cambridge caught us by surprise,” the Dutch cox later confessed.
Choppy water on the Crabtree Reach added to Dutch woes. It was the visitors’ lack of local knowledge that cost them; the bounce and squall of the Thames drained Dutch ambitions. Incohesive bladework and a heaviness infected the crew just as Cambridge hit their stride. With his brother in front of him, returning Blue Ollie Parish, set a confident rhythm and the Light Blues stretched out to open water past Harrods Depository, beneath Hammersmith Bridge, and beyond to the Eyot, finishing 2.5L in front. Cambridge’s Brett Taylor, racing at two, said: “It felt nice and sustainable. I think the result speaks for itself.”
What the Dutch lacked in Tideway nous they made up for in race savvy. The visiting Olympic hopefuls put the interlude between races to good use. They returned to piece two, recomposed and determined to settle the score. Having swapped stations, the course now favoured the visitors, but only if they could hang on to Cambridge long enough to benefit from the final Middlesex bend.
Cambridge delivered a better start in the second piece and snatched an early lead despite early clashes. Enjoying the remainder of the Surrey bend, Cambridge squeezed out a three-quarter length lead as the two crews passed Chiswick Steps. But the Dutch punched into a stronger rhythm and began to turn the tables on Cambridge.
“We didn’t quite push on, in the way that we needed to,” admits Cambridge seven-seat, Luca Ferraro. “We moved out of the clashing quite well by focussing on staying relaxed. But the next step is to hold our rhythm as we make our killer moves.”
By Barnes Bridge it was the Dutch that wielded the superior firepower. Cambridge dug deep but to no avail, their out-and-out effort to pull back level was thwarted by a rampaging Dutch crew that had finally clicked into form. The visitors fairing better in flatter, calmer water. At the finish Cambridge conceded 1.25L to the visitors.
The day ended one apiece, with lessons learnt by both crews. “No excuses! Cambridge did very well in the first piece. It was challenging water for our boys. For us, it is like an ocean! In the second piece they did better. Overall, it was a fantastic experience,” said Dutch Coach
Diederik de Boorder. “It is important for Dutch rowing to help our athletes become all-round, expert rowers.”
His thoughts were echoed by Dutch four seat, Olav Molenaar. “I’ve never rowed on the Tideway before. It is such an experience! Very challenging water conditions, that I’m sure the British know all about,” said the two-time Under 23 bronze medallist. “We are a scratch crew. We haven’t swept all year and just jumped in. We had a bit of trouble finishing our strokes and getting over the bumps. I assume we were a little out of the current because the moment we struggled they took off! In the second piece we stuck with it. We were tidier and able to stay with them and push away when we had the inside of the bend.
“Watching the action from the Umpire’s Launch Dutch Olympic bronze-medallist cox Peter van Wiersum. said, “Now we will watch the Boat Race and actually know what is happening!”
So, a worthwhile fixture enjoyed by athletes, coaches, and spectators alike.
Details of all The Boat Race Fixtures in the lead up to race day on 26 March can be found here.