John Carver, the Cambridge Boat Club president, accepted the challenge from last year's losers, Oxford, to race for the Beefeater Trophy on 1 April, although he knows he will never be able to compete himself. He raced for Goldie, the Cambridge reserves, in 1994, but two operations on a damaged wrist have failed to heal, complicated, he suggests, by his being a diabetic, and he has ruled himself out.
Oxford announced a crew which is as near certain in names, if not order, as it can be with four and a half weeks to go. Carver put names to a crew, but was anxious to say that at least two named for Goldie are serious challengers.
The contrast between the squads is clear. Oxford has an older, stronger group. The Light Blue squad, although less experienced and younger, has the advantage of six men who have come up through Goldie and the distinctive Cambridge coaching system over a number of years.
The continuity of training is a vital factor for Robin Williams, the Light Blue chief coach. "I am going to select a blend from the rhythm which we had in the 1995 Goldie crew and the sheer strength which you normally associate with the Blue Boat."
Daniel Topolski, who still leads the coaching at Oxford, has to find or create the cohesion in the next four weeks. "It's a race against time. We have had a breakthrough in the last few days, but cohesion will remain the challenge right up to the race."
He has the strength on tap to win, provided it can be harnessed. Five came back from Isis last year as well as two Blues, but only one, the president, Robert Clegg, was in the line-up yesterday. The remainder, including the Blue Garth Rosengren, were squeezed out by newcomers to the Dark Blue standard.
Williams has held the crew order for five days and will go on testing, looking for impro- vement. "I will be devastated if we don't win. But it's different. Last year I was in no doubt. This time I know we can win.
"We have a brand new crew which is neither favourite nor underdog. In '95 we won at 95 per cent of our best. This time it will take 100 per cent."