Junior rowers prepare for Schools’ Head and Scullery

It’s crunch time for junior crews as the Schools’ Head takes place on Wednesday 18 March followed by the Scullery on Friday 20 March. Martin Cross reports

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Can there have ever been such a difficult run-in to the Schools’ Head and the Scullery – the season’s two major junior head of the river races?

Storms Dennis and Ciara between them dumped so much rain on already swollen rivers that the red boards on locks have been present for almost as long as anyone can remember. This has meant that both school and club crews, based on rivers like the non-tidal Thames, have been unable to train on their home stretch of water for a considerable period of time. Furthermore, races where coaches traditionally test the speed of their junior crews – like the Women’s Head, Head of the Trent and the Reading University Head – have fallen victim to the conditions.

The only major junior event, which did run, was the Hampton Head back in February. There, a powerful crew from King’s College School comfortably won the boys’ junior eights’ category. This was a performance that gave the Wimbledon-based crew a chance of aiming for the prize of a top-six finish in the Schools’ Head of the River Race.

Races where coaches test the speed of their junior crews have fallen victim to the conditions

Being based at Putney, King’s College School have been able to maximise their time on the water, as have the crew that finished third in the championship eights last year: St Paul’s School. In 2019 the Bobby Thatcher coached crew were part of a top three that included both the eventual winners from Shiplake and Eton College. Last year, there was less than a second between these three crews.

Given the pedigree of Eton College, who also won the Princess Elizabeth Cup at Henley, it looks like they will be hard to beat in 2020. Eton have also had the benefit of rowing on Dorney Lake and so their training has been relatively unaffected by the heavy rainfall. Moreover, the school’s top squad has had a promising crop of last year’s J16 championship eights’ winners to work with.

Given the pedigree of Eton College, it looks like they will be hard to beat in 2020

Henley Rowing Club and The Lady Eleanor Holles School look set to continue their rivalry in the girls’ championship eights’ event at the Schools’ Head. Henley won the event in 2019 and recently finished third behind a fast Marlow Rowing Club crew at the Hampton Head.

The Holles crew, which includes a significant number returning from last year’s boat, have had training sessions at Ely against opposition from Cambridge University. But like all these Thames-based clubs, their training will have been adversely affected by being unable to row on a lightning-fast stream. And junior crews have also missed the chance to get some much-needed competition at the cancelled Women’s Head of the River Race. Don’t be surprised if the girls of Headington School make a strong showing too. Last year their J16 crew recorded a comfortable victory in the Schools’ Head.

Henley Rowing Club and The Lady Eleanor Holles School look set to continue their rivalry

In 2019, the girls of Henley Rowing Club also achieved some great results in the Junior Sculling Head, which is held over two lengths of the Dorney Lake course. In the J18 quads, Henley finished first and third, while also grabbing a narrow victory in the J17 quads. So, there would be little surprise if the girls from Henley prevailed in the J18 quads’ event, due to be held on 20 March.

In the same event, the boys of Henley Rowing Club will also be hoping for more honours at Dorney. Their J17 quad won the 2019 event comfortably from a good Walton Rowing Club quad. But indications are the margins could be tighter this year.

These two crews raced each other again in the recent Hampton Head and though Henley won, this time, it was only by the narrowest of margins. But both crews will be aware that back in 2019, it was the junior boys from Leander Club that dominated the J18 quads’ event.

For the latest updates on the Schools’ Head check here, and for the Scullery check here.

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