ROWING: British women at the back

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A new British national eight will make its debut in the Women's Head of the River Race on London's Tideway today, writes Hugh Matheson.

The British eight will start near the back, one place behind the German national and world champions, Deutscher Ruderverband, and will be obliged to cut through a motley bunch of novice crews starting only five places in front.

This was a deliberate decision by Bill Mason, the national women's coach. "We invited the Germans, Dutch and French to give us an idea of our speed. The Germans have sent five world champions and a scattering of internationals in other crews. We deliberately forfeited our place as head crew from last year to get a row close to the Germans among the new entries."

The race has grown in the past 10 years, and now has 229 crews racing at 10-second intervals from Chiswick to Putney. The national crew is chosen from the lightweight women's four, which took a world gold in 1993, and the best of the open weight women from the world and Olympic teams.

A Thames crew will lead off after finishing second last year, followed by Tideway Scullers and Kingston as the leading women's clubs. Other new entries include the Danish Students and Nottinghamshire County.

Both Oxford and Cambridge women's boats will race in preparation for their private match at Henley on 26 March. Oxford will start six places ahead, despite losing last year.