Germany U23 won the toss and chose Middlesex.
In the first of this year’s match races the putative Oxford Blue Boat took on a high quality challenge from the German U23 squad in two races on the Tideway. The first of these between Putney and St.Paul’s School and the second from Chiswick Eyot to The Boat Race finish at Mortlake.
Oxford look to have settled on a powerful combination with President Karl Hudspith the only returning Blue in the five seat, and experienced Dutch international Roel Haen at stroke, coxed by last year’s Isis steerswoman Zoe De Toledo.
The German VIII contained the Gold Medal winning coxless four from last year’s World Junior Championships plus a number of experienced U23 internationals. They were coxed for the fixture by one of Oxford’s hopefuls Oskar Zorilla.
In good conditions with a light south west wind blowing the German’s won the toss for stations and chose Middlesex, giving them the advantage of the early bend. Off the start with Oxford rating 45 it was the young crew from Germany at 42 who pulled out a small early lead. With both crews settling into their race, despite warnings to both from Boat Race Umpire Rob Clegg, the Germans continued to slowly edge away and held ¾ length as the crews passed the Fulham Wall.
The Germans continued to lead at the Mile Post which they reached in 3mins 40 seconds, but without taking any more out of the dark blue crew. Oxford however looked strong and though their blade work was scrappy at times their power proved decisive. Having pushed the German crew wide passing Harrods, Oxford put in a push up to 36 strokes a minute approaching Hammersmith Bridge. With the advantage of the Surrey bend now working for them the push proved to be decisive and, accompanied by a lot of shouting in the Blue Boat, they had pulled out to lead of ¾ length at the end of the piece at St. Pauls School boathouse, in a time of 7minutes 48 seconds.
In the second piece starting at Chiswick Eyot, with the crews again taking the same stations, both crews went off the start at 42 and this time it was Oxford who edged out to an early lead. They had a ¼ length advantage by the end of the Eyot and a ½ length by Chiswick Steps where the crews came very close to clashing.
Both crews were warned by the umpire, as they were to be repeatedly as the race progressed. Settling in to a powerful rhythm at 35 strokes a minute, Oxford looked more confident than in the first piece. The German’s striking at a higher rate were not be shaken off however and had reduced the Oxford lead to ½ length at Chiswick Pier easing back to ¼ length at the Band Stand with Oxford cox De Toledo earning a succession of warnings as she tried to take the shortest route into the Middlesex bend.
The Germans were forced to take an extremely close tight line into Barnes Bridge but took their rate back up to 37, taking a small lead. This was to be the only time they lead in the race as Oxford countered in the slightly rougher water to take the lead back, their muscular style forging a ½ length advantage as the crews passed Dukes Meadow.
Still close and still being warned, with the finish in sight the crews clashed blades, surprising the two man in the German boat. With this the Germans seemed to lose concentration and Oxford extended their lead decisively in the last half minute of the race, going on to win by 1 ½ lengths in a time of 7 minutes 20 seconds.
Oxford Coach Sean Bowden thought it was a useful workout for both the crew and coxes. He was especially pleased with the second of the two races saying, “They need to row like they did in the second piece, the crew’s under pressure so it’s never easy but we can take some confidence away from today.”
Earlier in the day the Oxford second boat Isis raced in two similar pieces against a crew from Imperial College. Isis were pushed hard and finished ahead in both races even after Imperial had taken early leads, however after the second race Umpire Richard Phelps disqualified Isis following a clash near the Band Stand.
Report by Peter McConnell