With the Boat Race now just a month away I thought I would put a few thoughts down as to where I see both universities in their preparation. This is purely my own opinion and I have no connection to either of the Oxford or Cambridge squads (although I am on the committee for the Henley Boat Races – but I shan’t be commenting on that now).
So, what’s been going on?
First of all the men’s race…..
Back in February Oxford took on Leander in 3 shortish pieces. Oxford won all three with, apparently an overlap in the first two pieces and with a clear water win in the 3rd. Today Cambridge also took on Leander with 5 of the same crew from the encounter with Oxford….the result? Cambridge won the first by 2.5l and the 2nd by 4l. Now, last weekend Oxford raced at the Reading University Head of the River which they won by 24 seconds ahead of Leander. So what does this tell us? Well, it does enable a little bit of comparative benchmarking.
If I’m honest, when I looked at the two squads back in October (and subsequently the results at the Head of the River Fours) I thought this was going to be an easy win for Oxford. They have an outstanding line-up….perhaps not quite as exceptional as 2014, but with the likes of Louloudis, the O’Connor brothers, Di Santo, Cook they have some world class athletes. Cambridge on the other hand, didn’t have that sort of pedigree (on paper). I was thinking that April 11th would be almost as big a victory for the Dark Blues as 2014. My assumption was that Cambridge had the makings of an excellent university crew, but Oxford had the makings of a world class crew.
But, results from today have just made me think a little more. From a brief look at the start of the CUBC v Leander race, Cambridge didn’t start particularly quickly but they looked to have a beautiful rhythm and were able to over-haul Leander and move comfortably away.
Elsewhere the Oxford Brookes crew raced Cambridge and, whilst there’s no official report, the word is that “honours were even”. Brookes then subsequently finished 26 seconds behind OU at Reading.
So what do I think will happen come April 11th? I still think it’ll be a Dark Blue victory, Oxford have an immensely talented squad and Bowden has an uncanny knack of getting his crews to peak at the just the right moment. But, my assumption that Oxford will romp away to a 10+ length victory are rapidly being revised. Trapmore is under severe pressure after the drubbing they received in 2014. But he looks to be working some magic with his Light Blue squad. My money (at this stage) is an Oxford win by 2-3 lengths.
Now for the women’s race….
As with the men’s race the two squads are radically different in terms of their experience. Oxford have the most decorated athlete of all the squads, Caryn Davies, a triple Olympic medalist. They performed exceptionally well at the Head of the River Fours. They destroyed a very strong Molesey crew at the end of February – winning the first piece by 29 seconds and then overhauling Molesey’s 1.5l headstart in the 2nd to win by 4 lengths. The story was much the same in the 3rd which Oxford won by 28 seconds. This has the makings of a truly outstanding Oxford boat and could be a great advertisement for women’s rowing on 11th April.
Like their male counterparts, the Cambridge Women have a less star-studded squad. They raced at the Women’s Head of the River this weekend, winning the University pennant and finishing 5th overall. Most tellingly Cambridge finished 5 seconds ahead of Molesey – the crew that Oxford took nearly 30 second off over a third of the course. Things are looking bleak if you are a Light Blue fan. Again, as with the Men, the Cambridge women have the makings of a very strong University crew, whereas Oxford have the makings of an outstanding one. It remains to be seen if Rob Baker can work some of the same magic with the women that Steve Trapmore appears to be doing with the men.
It is intriguing looking at the line up that Cambridge boated. The current Blue Boat doesn’t include Blues Catherine Foot, Holly Game, Isabella Vyvyan and USA U23 international Daphne Martschenko. Clearly Baker has selected his fastest combination but that’s quite an experienced quartet to leave out.
My money for the women’s race is an overwhelming win for the Dark Blues.
I’ll (hopefully) do a seat-by-seat review of the final crews once they are announced, and if I see any major moves between now and then I’ll write about it here.