Rowing: Oxford have the meat in the middle: Hugh Matheson finds Cambridge acting coy about their crew for the Boat Race next month

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CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY, who seem to have employed the same agent as the Ireland rugby team for the past seven years, opened the publicity campaign for the 1993 Boat Race with a formal challenge on the terrace of the House of Commons yesterday.

James Behrens, a Light Blue and 6ft 5in and 14st, invited Matthew Pinsent, a Dark Blue and 6ft 5in and 15st, to race his crew from Putney to Mortlake on 27 March.

Victory for Oxford would level the series at 69 wins each, and they have assembled one of the strongest squads ever, concentrated around Matthew Pinsent, the president, and Bruce Robertson in the No 7 seat, both Olympic champions. Behind them in the heart of the boat is Andrew Gordon Brown, another Olympian.

Brown will vacate his seat to attend a wedding in South Africa for the Reading Head of the River Race, however, and will be replaced by Boris Mavra, a national of the former Yugoslavia, who won a Blue last year but was not included in the top eight yesterday. Pinsent, though, was careful to point out that his list is not final.

Cambridge did not even attempt to name a crew and released 10 names from which eight will be picked. The problem for the Light Blues is that the ideal crew, chosen for their physiological capacity - that is, on strength and endurance alone - are not fast enough and the coaches must blend in some oarsmen with a lower power output but better boat-moving skills.

This is often the case with good crew selection, but is difficult to justify to the athletes who are dropped.

The next phase of Cambridge selection is likely to be building the crew from stroke and picking those who work best in the rhythm rather than the usual method of chosing the core power unit for the middle seats, particularly Nos 5 and 6, and then arranging the rest around them.

Oxford, meanwhile, have the meat in the middle with a proven winner, Ian Gardiner, at stroke and, with the exception of Mavra, no real pretenders to a very strong and experienced boat.

Both Blue Boats will be steered by men and both the reserves, Isis and Goldie, by women.

OXFORD UNIVERSITY (provisional): Bow: E A D Haddon (Eton and Oriel). *J G Michels (St John's College HS, La Salle Univ and Pembroke), R H Manners (Winchester College and Brasenose), *K K Poole (Magdalen College School and St John's), A S Gordon-Brown (Hyde Park HS, Univ of Cape Town and Keble), *M C Pinsent (Eton and St Catherine's), B D Robertson (St Francis HS, Univ of Victoria, Canada, and Keble). Stroke: *I W Gardiner (Glasgow Academy and St Peter's). Cox: G J Buxton (Royal GS High Wycombe and Pembroke).

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY SQUAD: M P Baker (St Albans Washinghton DC, Brown Univ US and St Edmunds), *D E Bangert (Deutschhaus Gymnasium Wurzburg, Univ of Wurzburg, Fitzwilliam and St John's), *J H J Behrens (Radley, Reading Univ and Downing), J A Bernstein (Phillips Andover, Harvard and St Edmund's), C P H Elmitt (St Paul's and Sidney Sussex), *D R Gillard (Bedford Modern and St Catharine's), S M Gore (Methodist College, Belfast and Jesus), W T M Mason (Shrewsbury and Trinity Hall), R C Phelps (Latymer Upper and St Edmund's), M E Thomson (Royal GS High Wycombe and Jesus). Cox: M N Haycock (Abingdon and Magdalene).

* denotes Blue

(Photograph omitted)