Every year, Durham’s newest rowing crews take to the River Wear in a festival of college oarsmanship. As is traditional, this year’s competition provided a thrilling blend of endeavour and mayhem.
At dusk on Sunday evening, St. John’s College emerged triumphant, having won the women’s Hazel Scott Aiton trophy and both Plate competitions, and were only denied a clean sweep by John Snow, whose dynamic men’s four took home the Novice Cup.
As usual, the standard of rowing on show varied greatly – but this only adds to the endearing nature of the competition itself. There were numerous close battles in which collegiate rivalry reigned, but equally exciting were races in which trailing boats were gifted victory through huge errors by their opposition.
Such mistakes became rare come Sunday though, as the best fresher crews entered the semi-finals. Here, the success of St. John’s became apparent, the small Bailey college contributing two boats to the remaining four in each draw.
Remarkably, both John’s female crews progressed to the final, and here they treated the gathering crowd to the closest encounter of the weekend. Neck and neck the entire course, their oars clashed under Bath’s bridge, leaving John’s Wellington stranded as their colleagues in the Rosser boat took the women’s trophy.
Progressing to the men’s final, the St. John’s Perry four had the task of defeating the powerful Humby boat of John Snow if they were to claim the two main trophies. They were denied, however, by the dominant Snow crew, who deservingly retain the Novice Cup.
Palatinate had a word with members of St. John’s and John Snow BC execs after the event, to find out the reasons behind their success.
John’s took numerous crews through to the latter stages. Why has your novice development been so successful?
To give a boring answer, a lot of hard work and great club spirit. The target was to win convincingly and both the crews and coaches showed a huge amount of determination to make sure we achieved that. Being one of the smallest Durham colleges we don’t have numbers on our side, so we have to make up for that with quality.
We’re quite ruthless with our squad selection and we focus the majority of our time on technique training as opposed to fitness to make sure all our crews are rowing neatly and efficiently.
Have you done anything differently this year?
We always do all our coaching ourselves with some of our most experienced senior rowers and, having won the women’s cup three times in the last four years, we didn’t feel we needed to change much – we did have a slightly larger fresher intake this year, but I can’t say that made much difference.
However when selecting and in training, we did try to give our crews equal treatment this time, as opposed to having one or two top boats.
Did you expect such a level of success?
Our crews were looking fairly impressive during training so I was pretty confident we’d be successful to some degree, but I could never have predicted we’d do quite so well.
Arvind Mahendran – JSCBC Men’s Captain
James Anscombe-Bell – JSCBC Freshers’ Captain
No-one could get near your winning crew. Did you expect this? Was it a result of having some talented freshers, or a particularly intensive Novice Development programme?
JAB: I don’t think you can realistically expect any result at Novice Cup, as virtually anything can happen. However, given the amount of training we had done, I was quietly confident. We were fortunate as we were able to train on the water four times in the week before the event, which gave us a large advantage.
AM: It was down to a mix of both. We had very committed freshers who were enthusiastic and very dedicated to the programme James and I conducted. James stroked the winning crew last year so he was determined to repeat his success. We used to train them twice a week – training levels weren’t abnormal.
JAB: Also, rowing on the Tees rather than the Wear is a big advantage. The river is wider and we can paddle for miles before we have to turn.
AM: The length of the Tees allows many boats to train without getting in the way of others and allows longer training which allowed our crews to work on the balance of their boat.
We knew we had a good chance of doing well but we were taken aback at how well we did not only in the overall competition, but in individual races where we were able to control things quite early.
Retaining the men’s Cup is a real achievement. What has allowed you to achieve this?
AM: This really was a team effort, and the social side of the club definitely helped integrate the freshers into the club, and gave them a sense of pride and belonging which helped to provide drive. Another factor was the commitment of seniors to coxing and coaching the crews.
JAB: Without such a committed crew, the result would have been very different. They quickly took everything on board so they were very easy to coach. Our success was caused by a mix of having talented guys in the boat and many hours of training – we trained a lot harder this year than last.