TRC win the Thames Cup at Henley Royal Regatta

Henley Royal Regatta 2015 was, like all HRRs, going to be one to talk about. But with Sir Steve at the helm for the first time and live TV streaming to YouTube, this had the makings of something really special. Also with one of the largest entries into the regatta and an eight undefeated by UK club opposition, hopes were high and building.

Besides the Remenham Challege Cup win in 2005, the last time Thames won an 8s event at Henley was in 1948 (the Grand). The last time we won the Thames Cup was in 1934. So getting four crews into the event seemed to make a bold statement that we’re here en masse and meant business. It also piled the pressure on.

hrr 2015 thames cup.jpg

The Brit 4+ had to go through qualifiers for reasons unknown, and the junior boys qualified in an incredibly tough field. The last minute women’s 8 was second fastest non qualifiers in the Remenham, sandwiched between the funded centres of UL and Brookes, while the 4x was in the middle of the pack. Not a bad start!

Thames Cup D

Thames Cup D

The draw threw up some challenges and frustrations – as is to be expected at the world’s hardest regatta! The 1st 8 was going to have to win ‘the hard way’: bottom of the draw, Bucks station from Friday onwards. The Brit four, now seeded having won qualifiers, was going to face a slightly easier time of it to the weekend than the Lea who it looked like we would meet on Saturday. The Thames Cup ‘B’ faced selected Tideway Scullers on day one but if it could clear that hurdle, Friday looked possible. The ‘C’ crew looked rather up against it with the Germans from Mülheim while our novices rowing as Thames ‘D’ had their rivals from the racing season, Kingston, on day one.

The ‘D’ crew had a great race against Kingston and after losing a bit of ground on the start, were stuck half a length down until around Remenham, where upon the more efficient technique of the guys in scarlet began to show and they drew away to win by just over a length. What a result and an experience for guys that started rowing less than a year ago. Congrats to all and to the coaches, Gavin and Sheena! We have high hopes for these boys next year.

Thames Cup C

Thames Cup C

The ‘C’ crew were given a good schooling in how to start by Mülheim who clearly do a lot of 350m races on the circuit in Germany. However, by the Barrier, they couldn’t get anymore and were clearly puffing and from Fawley on, our boys began eating back at them but the distance done in the first half a mile was too great. Frustrating as there were several crews we could have beaten, but that’s the nature of Henley!

The ‘B’ crew jumped ahead of Tideway Scullers’ (a selected crew) out of the blocks and held strong challenges through the body of the course and stretched away to a 1 1/4 length win. This was pretty much what the coaches had predicted quietly over beers the night before but was nevertheless cause for celebration as it upset the seedings and meant we would have two crews through. The next day we raced Upper Thames, a club that has come on hugely in the last few years, to the extent that they are rebuilding their squad after winning the Brit and Wyfolds last year.

Thames Cup B

Thames Cup B

The race proved harder than expected on paper and UTRC were utterly relentless, but our chaps did manage to prove the better crew, as predicted, and were through to Friday. Here they faced Leander’s U21 crew. We thought we had a chance if we had a cracker and they didn’t. We were wrong! We had a great race, but Leander were simply too strong and were worthy winners, going through to the semi-finals. Having two crews in the semi-finals would have been too much and was probably a good thing as it limited alcohol consumption in the coaches de-brief at the close of play!

The Fawley 4x drew Norwich, a crew we had been toe to toe with all season. It was going to be tough! At Fawley, we had a narrow lead but a better cruising speed saw our guys move away and win by open water. A great result for a feisty crew. The next day, Glasgow Academy were quite simply too strong for us. They went on to push Borlase to a canvas in the semi-final.

For the Brit 4+, being made to qualify despite having won Senior 4’s at Marlow suited their under-dog nature perfectly. Cruising through to Saturday’s semi-finals, they faced Lea, a crew who were probably the domestic favourites having done well in Elite at Marlow and beaten us by six seconds at the Met.

Fawley 4x

Fawley 4x

Drawn on the outside station (not where you ever want to be, though the stats might suggest otherwise this year), we knew we would be down and the Lea is not the sort ofclub that rolls over easily. We were down at the Barrier but started eating back as we approached Fawley. There was a toe to toe struggle for some time but by Remenham it was apparent we were getting better and better in the horrendous cross wind and wash, while Lea were struggling. Finally we broke clear and went away to a solid win. It showed how far our squad and crews have come since last year, and also that the lack of rain evens things up somewhat.

To make the final was a great result for this tough bunch of racers, however, no one was under any illusions that winning was going to be a bit of a tall order in the final. It was. Sydney were superb. Had the wind swung, they would have been serious contenders to take the record, and I suspect we will be seeing some of them on the international stage in a year or so. They were great guys and great fun to party with after, Henry Poor in particular being delighted that the stroke was a fellow Kiwi with a moustache to rival his! An incredibly gutsy crew that I suspect we haven’t seen the last of!

Britannia 4+

Britannia 4+

The 1st 8 came to the regatta in a class of its own against domestic opposition. Being unbeaten in the Head season at the local Tideway Heads, pipping Scullers for the Vernon Trophy and finishing 9th at the Head of the River Race, winning Champ 8’s and both 4’s events at Wallingford, clocking a 5:39 in Ghent, putting 16 seconds into Sport IC at Marlow, and pushing Brookes and Leander in a series of superb races – all these things had given us high hopes but also piled on the pressure.

Cruising through to Saturday as we expected, we faced University Barge Club, a bunch of guys very like ourselves but with better pedigree on paper, and with fresh legs after Sport IC withdrew through injury. Not what we wanted! This was likely to be ‘the final’ and it was indeed a huge test. Not least for the coaches who despite preparing the crew to be down at the Barrier, were on the verge of convulsions when it was called as Barge Club leading by a full length! Was it all going to unravel again?

The answer was no. The boys, kept cool by the ‘Ice Queen’ Connie Pidoux, found the rhythm we have worked on all year and backed up by having actually done all the training all year and moved rapidly back on the powerful Americans. Level at Fawley, 3/4 by Remenham, a length at the bottom of the enclosure, the boys didn’t need to use their final three gears and cruised home. Demons slayed and two emotionally spent coaches! It wasn’t technically the row we would have liked but the mental and physical training was enough to see us through in very challenging conditions.

Sunday required one last step up. The boys stepped up again and delivered their best row of the season do see off a strong Bayer Leverkusen crew, six of whom had been in finals last year and containing several Junior World Champions. Having lost so many finals and semi-finals, the boys eased off through the enclosures to enjoy the experience (can’t blame them!) but the times put us very close to Yale who had romped off with the Ladies Plate just 30′ before. Had we been pushed who knows how fast we might have gone.

It is hard to define and explain quite how good this crew was, and what they put themselves (and their coaches through!) to get their red boxes. It was by far and away the largest cheer of the prize giving and the party afterwards continued, for some, until day break. It won’t stop for some time either! The coaches were told by the holder of the 20-year-old Thames Cup record that this crew were capable of breaking it. With Nereus beating Brookes by a canvas to clock a 6:03 on the Friday, this looks like a fairly sound statement from a very experienced and successful coach.

This has to be once of the most deserved wins for a club crew, much like our good rivals from Upper Thames last year and HRC 10 years before. It means James Padmore can stop writing apology letters, Rich Dyer will remain the TRC oar-javelin champion and Ant Lester and Si Challen can let their backs decline as they wish and no longer keep the coaches awake at night. There have been a lotof laughs, a few telling offs, but not once has this crew under performed all year or made the same mistake twice.

We had no choice but to do the 8 as we had no way of finding a top four, it was all so close. In two coxless fours over 2000m on camp they were a bow ball apart. In four pairs at the Met, they were within 4 seconds (and this includes two of them drifting across the line after clashing with 5 strokes to go). We used the telemetry just once, barely rowed the eight because we couldn’t due to work schedules and learned from mistakes made last year. This was, simply, a superb crew with not a single weak link and they have proven that you can go really fast with a proper career on the go. They have come away with new friends for life, a bank of amazing memories and a lots of hangovers to come!

This brings the 2015 season to a close. The Captain and Coaches’ slightly fanciful aims in September were –

The Vernon and Top 10 at the Head
2nd 8 top 20 at the Head
IM3 Club Pennant
Novice Pennant
Retain all titles at Wallingford and win a few more
Win more pots than last year at Met
Win something at Marlow
Get 4 eights into the Thames Cup
Win the Thames Cup and make the weekend in the Brit.

Not only have we done it, but we exceeded expectations. Sir Steve was right at prizegiving; rowing is about team work and Thames have worked superbly as a club from committee level down to novices. That’s what it took to bring that Thames Cup home after an absence of 81 years.