Under murky December skies today the half of the OUBC squad calling itself Rohan defeated the other half calling itself Gondor by four and a half seconds (a length and a half) after a pitched battle which would have been a credit to the Lord of the Rings franchise. Starting better on the Middlesex bank, Rohan took a few seats lead straight away and bore down hard on their opposition, who had won the toss and chosen Surrey, but were warned immediately by umpire Ciaran Hayes who then had to wield his flag at them more than twenty times during the race. Gondor, rather on the back foot, kept trying to claw back distance but were hampered by having less immediate speed to generate pushes, even though their base rhythm was strong.
There were a couple of small clashes soon after Hammersmith Bridge, the worse one seeing a bow blade at the back of the Gondor crew flying up after being caught by the Rohan stroke blade just after Rohan had been warned, though the oarsman recovered quickly into the next catch. As a result, Gondor cox Olly Perry appealed to the umpire at the finish line, but was turned down. “In my opinion the clash did not affect the outcome of the race so the result stands as it is”, said Hayes to the crews. Around the Crossing for a moment the two crews briefly swapped station, which Hayes thought may have been due to Gondor trying to go for contact on Rohan and get them disqualified. Once they were back on station and through Barnes Bridge it was just a case of Rohan trying to widen the margin in the final sprint, which Gondor prevented quite effectively, tying it back to 1.5 lengths when it had at one stage been close to two.
“[Rohan] were steering on a knife edge, so they were warned consistently down the course”, said Hayes afterwards. He felt neither cox had responded quickly enough to his warnings, which increased the risk that a minor blip like the clashes could rapidly have become worse and led to a disqualificatory problem. “When the clash happened, although Rohan were being warned, Gondor had also moved across, so it wasn’t a situation where Rohan had gone clearly into their water.
“The umpire’s launch was a little on the quiet side”, said Rohan cox Jack Tottem, who had clearly expected to be berated more for his highly aggressive steering. “We had little moves off the back of the clashes, we talked about being really sensible, really calm, not getting into anything which would disrupt the rhythm,” he added.
“It could have been a little closer if Gondor had started better: I think if they’d been quicker up to the Milepost that would have made a big difference,” said OUBC chief coach Sean Bowden. “We probably had enough evidence in training to know that was a likely outcome, and the margin they got beaten by today was about the margin they were behind a week ago.” As he described, before the stage of fixing equal crews six days earlier, he had discovered that the final tuning swaps tended to make enough of a difference to swap the margin, leaving him with few choices. “One boat would win, we’d swap one person over and the other boat would win. We just had to decide who ended up with the last change.”
“I think there’s some questions over the efficiency of the boats”, added Bowden. “Gondor’s was probably a little more individual, didn’t quite have the uniformity of rhythm. It’s fair to say that the Rohan boat, the Charlie Elwes boat had a pattern of rowing that’s more where we’re trying to go. He [Elwes] did a great job, he’s quite a presence in the boat.” The big absence was Angus Groom, recovering from what Bowden described as “a chronic problem” but kept out of trial eights so that he can be fully fit for Oxford’s Tideway-based training camp in early January.
“Obviously with Middlesex we knew we had to make sure we used our advantage early in the race to put ourselves in amongst it”, said Tottem, “We were in a pretty good position coming out of the Fulham bend and then got into some really nice patches of rhythm before the island. Credit to them, they held on a really long time but the guys are pleased we cracked it and then had some beans left at the end.” Perry, his rival, was resigned to the loss, agreeing that Rohan had started better. “They had the ability to put in more effective pushes than we did, and any time we got a bit of momentum with our race pace, which was probably a bit better than theirs, [the clashes and washing down] stopped us getting level and quite being able to push out in front. If we hadn’t clashed I’m not sure our pace would have been able to take us to win it.”
Overall it was a fascinating race, with one crew (Rohan) sprintier off the start and moving faster in their very visible pushes, though Tottem had the shell across the tide so frequently that it must have cost them some speed. By contrast Perry was much more in tune with the direction of the Tideway stream, and also worked hard to make sure when being washed down that it had minimal effect on the shell and blades of the Gondor crew. But his rowers were rather one-pace in their rhythm and when they got into clean water so should then have come back on their rivals, were unable to lift the tempo and take advantage. Rohan had better dynamism from the catch to the pin and more momentum off the back end, both in speed through the water and in rhythm forwards, a tactic which Bowden likes in his crews as it helps them conserve energy across a long race, but they weren’t able to move into the multi-length margin one would have expected given their speed in tight points of the race.
It was a classic outcome: a fairly close result in which observers could see the advantages and problems of each crew which Bowden and his team will now try to marry together over the next few months into a final Blue Boat.
Cambridge’s men race trials on Monday 20th December while the women’s trial eights, which were meant to precede the men’s on each day, were both postponed into January after separate Covid cases in the two squads.
Crew lists are as follows:
ROHAN Bow Chris Rimmer, 2 Jan Stratmann, 3 Roman Röösli, 4 Jack Robertson, 5 Augustin Wambersie, 6 Tobias Schröder, 7 Joshua Bowesman-Jones, Stroke Charlie Elwes, Cox Jack Tottem
GONDOR Bow Chris Hull, 2 James Forward, 3 Henry Pearson, 4 Martin Barakso, 5 Barnarbé Delarze, 6 David Ambler, 7 Liam Corrigan, Stroke Tassilo von Mueller, Cox Olly Perry