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Rowers Head to head

1. Head to head

Two crews packed with rowers with international experience. Two coaches with strong track records. Two highly competitive universities with huge pride at stake. Welcome to the Gallagher Boathouse 8s rowing clash between Oxford and Waikato universities in Hamilton on Sunday 7 September.

Thousands are expected to pack the banks of the Waikato River to watch this classic Northern Hemisphere versus Southern Hemisphere encounter, which is supported by a strong line-up of other races and entertainment.

The Great Race for the Harry Mahon Memorial Trophy has been extended by 1.3kms to 5kms this year. It’s anticipated this will make it a much closer race than 2002, with tactics expected to be a key factor in deciding who wins on the winding river course.

This makes the coxswain’s job an even more crucial role than last year. The two universities have two experienced hands at the tiller: Rachel Goudie, with her important local knowledge, will guide the Waikato crew, while Oxford’s cox is Acer Nethercott, a member of the crew that beat Cambridge this year.

While Waikato international rower Sam Earl has been forced to withdraw because of back injuries, the local team still features a strong line-up. Five of last year’s crew that beat Cambridge University in the inaugural ‘Great Race’ will front up again this year: skipper James Fitzgerald, Selwyn Cleland, Andrew McCowan, Jonathon McElwee and coxswain Rachel Goudie.

They’ll be joined by Waikato international George Bridgewater, with Byron Arnold, Simon Corbett and Cameron Corkill. The reserve is Tim Loughnane.

Waikato coach Steve Wills, who has a record of high-level successes with women’s crews in the UK, is overseeing final preparations for race day.

“We are aware of the challenge that Oxford poses being skillful racers. But I am confident that our mix of experience and youth will rise to the challenge.”

Oxford coach Derek Clark and his crew are indeed tough opponents. Clark, who has previously coached the British and Swiss national teams, has been coaching Oxford since 2000 and has won three of the last four annual clashes with Cambridge. Five of his crew have international age group experience.

Clark expects his crew to be very fit and ready for action. “We will be doing everything possible to win the race on 7 September. We know that they [Waikato] gave Cambridge a real beating last year, so we will be expecting a very tough race.”

Cambridge have warned Oxford they need to ensure they get their steering right on the winding Waikato course.

Clark says a win in Hamilton will help Oxford build up to the crucial 150th Cambridge-Oxford clash next year. “We have used video of the NZ world champion eight from the 80s as a model over the last few years and having the chance to train where they trained adds a bit more to the magic. We hope this camp will give us a head start on the path to victory next March.”

As a build-up to the Great Race, the Waikato University senior women’s eight will be racing a NZ Academy women’s eight, meaning the cream of university rowers and the best talent at national age group level will be competing against each other.

The University seniors are a mix of current and past NZ reps with four members of the crew having been 2003 NZ University rowing representatives. Candice Bardsley (cox), Megan Scott, Abbie Phillips and Kim Forlong were all members of the victorious NZ Universities womens eight that beat Australia in the annual Trans-Tasman clash, winning the series 3-0.

2. Message from Waikato University Vice-Chancellor Professor Bryan Gould:

When, as both student and don, I watched Oxford University race Cambridge in the Boat Race, I little thought that I would one day watch a university of which I was Vice-Chancellor race against my alma mater in New Zealand. Last year’s race against Cambridge provided a mouth-watering hors d’oeuvre but with this year’s race against Oxford we get down to the real business.

Oxford won a thrilling race against Cambridge earlier this year, with a winning margin of just one foot, the closest race in history. I am not tempted to predict the outcome of our race against Oxford, but I do hope for a good contest and an event that captures the popular imagination. To me, there is something wonderful about one of the world’s great universities from the Old World travelling half way around the world to race a New World university on its own river. I hope others will share that sense of pride and excitement and will enjoy the day as much as I will.

3. Future vision

The Great Race organisers Boathouse Events Ltd have grand plans to expand the current Gallagher Boathouse 8s event making it the premiere rowing event in New Zealand.

The concept would be to have a Boatrace Week, with an international invitational regatta for top universities from around the world.

Ideas at this stage include having universities from the US, Britain, South Africa and Japan coming here to compete.

Venues for the regatta could include the Waikato River, Lake Karapiro and other regional waterways.

Up for grabs would be the title of the Boathouse 8s Invitational Championship. Interest has been received from overseas universities about the regatta concept.

© Scoop Media

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