ROWING: Fancied Blonde overcome by White heat

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ROWING The Cambridge Trial Eights for April's Boat Race were rowed on a perfect Tideway yesterday and came as a riposte to Oxford's fine race two weeks ago. The crews, named after the villains in a blood-and-pistols movie, were smooth and slick.

"Mr White", with a middle three of Richard Phelps, the president, Marko Banovic and Scott Brownlee, who had rowed in the 1992 Olympic finals for Britain, Croatia and New Zealand respectively, seemed the stronger on paper and took the lead shortly after starting at 43 strokes to the minute.

"Mr Blonde", stroked by Miles Barnet, looked the more anxious and settled a stroke or two more to the minute, but were unable to match the power from the middle of "White" and had given up the struggle by half-way, losing by three-and-a-half lengths in 19min 01sec to 18m 51sec.

Robin Williams, who has taken over at Cambridge from the team of coaches who had brought success for the past two years, said that while he recognised the combined strength of the Phelps-Banovic-Brownlee bloc he thought the other crew was more even in talent throughout, and from the evidence in training, he thought they might win.

By proving him wrong the trials served their purpose in selecting the core of the Boat Race crew but left open the choice of stroke. The previous regime at Cambridge was strikingly successful because it imposed a highly distinctive style, noted for the elastic, fluid cycle of the stroke. This meant that the stroke and seven seats were given to the pair best able to feed this rhythm to the crew and to hold it under pressure. What was not clear yesterday was where Williams will find a stern pair able to dominate the three internationals who will be his power source.

He may turn to Matt Parish, the stroke of the 1993 British eight, in place of either of the men on show yesterday.

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