Rowing: Itchy and Scratchy suggest tough Boat Race for Oxford

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CAMBRIDGE, BIDDING to see out the century with a seventh consecutive Boat Race victory on April 3, 1999, threw down the gauntlet to Oxford with a fast Trial Eights race on London's Tideway yesterday.

The crews, dubbed Scratchy and Itchy, looked stern-heavy with the prospective Blue Boat divided equally among them.

The Canadian president, Brad Crombie, a winner in light blue in 1997 and 1998, put himself at number seven in Itchy behind last year's Goldie man Richard Stokes, with the British under-23 international Kieran West at six and the American David Ellis at five.

Opposing them in Scratchy were the other two surviving Blues, Graham Smith and the 6ft 7in Toby Wallace at seven and five. They were matched on the stroke side by Tom Stallard and the German under-23 international, Tim Wooge, who developed his rowing at Northeastern University in Boston, United States.

Taking the Middlesex station, Itchy were quicker off the start and by London Rowing Club had snatched a length. In spite of hanging close to the Fulham Wall, Itchy continued to move away, assisted by Scratchy following them into the dead water. As the crews settled into a rhythm with Itchy gradually drawing ahead, Scratchy still looked the longer and steadier.

Stallard, his hair patch-dyed to suggest a leopard, gave a chunky, hard- hitting lead backed by the experienced international Graham Smith.

After a warning from the umpire, John Garrett, at the Black Buoy, the crews separated and raced wide apart across the Fulham Flats with Itchy only able to exploit the inside of the bend because Scratchy chose to play follow my leader into the slow, shallow water.

After the Mile Post, Scratchy had a chance to come back on terms as Itchy moved across to the Harrods Pier. The two crews rowed in line astern to Hammersmith Bridge.

Here Stallard put in a couple of pushes and his crew, still looking longer and stronger, forced a flurry of bursts from Stokes and his Itchy crew. After the bridge Scratchy appeared to be shortening the gap of open water to less than a length when their cox, Christopher Wren, veered towards St Paul's School and Itchy, at last in the proper water, was able to break contact.

By the Cheswick Eyot it was all over. Itchy rowed away to win by 15 seconds in 17 min 11sec, fast in the conditions and very fast considering how little time both teams had spent in the mainstream.