Dutch coach's radical changes to engine room

VARSITY SPORTS: Oxford rowers experiment on the water while the Light Blues eye a hat-trick of victories on the rugby pitch

From the moment they appeared on the Tideway, the Oxford trial crews for the 1997 Boat Race on 29 March demonstrated the new gospel of how a boat should move, writes Hugh Matheson. Under the care of Rene Mijnders, the coach to the Dutch Olympic eight which won gold by a length in Atlanta, their approach to the transfer of power from man to craft has changed radically.

The two crews, "Y-fronts" and "Boxer Shorts", started after the University Stone yesterday, and each quickly settled into a rhythm of about 34 strokes per minute. Nick Robinson, from Hampton School and stroking Boxer, was generally a pip lower than Tim Foster stroking Y, and he fell behind by about a quarter-length after a minute.

Foster, an experienced British international, had a reshuffled crew behind him after Charlie Humphries had withdrawn with flu. The Oxford president, Ed Bellamy, moved from the four to the six seat and Dan Law was promoted from a junior trial eight.

Foster's crew, on the Surrey station, held its narrow lead around the Fulham flats. This was in part because James Micklethwait, his cox, was able to crowd Robinson's boat out of the stream. Robinson's cox Alex Greaney was on a yellow card for past steering clashes and was under orders not to push back.

After the Mile post, timed at 3min 37sec, when the bend began to turn against him, Robinson appeared to raise the game and was able to draw level as they approached Hammersmith. Behind him, the pair of Etonian junior internationals, Andrew Lindsay and James Roycroft, were sending down a lovely easy rhythm and Luka Grubor, the Croatian international who won the Henley Grand Challenge Cup with Imperial College last summer, was beginning to show the full effect of his 15st 10lb strength.

But Foster, at 27, was canny enough to use the bend and Micklethwait's aggression to pull back in front, and were a canvas ahead when they shot Hammersmith Bridge.

Bellamy, who may well find himself in contention with Humphries for the final seat in the blue boat, looked small between Damian West in the No 5 seat and Roberto Blanda at No 7, both of whom claim 6ft 6in measurements, but he was holding the rhythm well and kept the crew in good heart. Where the Hammersmith bend dies out after St Pauls, Micklethwait had his final attempt to push Greaney wide.

This time he would not go and the crews clashed blades. Foster, as expected from one who stroked London University, emerged with an extra two-seats advantage. But Robinson responded, and along Chiswick Eyot they drew level then took a canvas lead.

Neither crew looked strained at the finish, and the quality of the rowing and quantity of work never wavered. There was another small clash as the river turned, once again, in Foster's favour after Chiswick Steps, but he was unable to regain the lead. Although the stern four of Robinson's crew was giving away 18 years in experience to the stern four of Y-Fronts,they prevailed by what coach Mijnders called "a long half-length" in 17min 10 sec.

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