Rowing: Oxford will rely on depth

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THE BOAT RACE crews returned to the Tideway in London yesterday for the last week of preparation for their four-and- a-half-mile test on Saturday.

The Quaich, supplied by the sponsors Aberdeen Asset Management, was displayed to the two crews as a teaser at their weigh-in, when Oxford proved marginally the heavier and Cambridge marginally the taller. Age matters, too, and Oxford will be the older with the addition of the Swedish Olympic sculler Henrik Nilsson, 30 last month.

The squads emerged before Christmas when it was clear that, while Oxford had greater depth, the top group at Cambridge would be formidable.

There are two Americans on each team and Neil O'Donnell, the Dark Blue coxswain who steered the reserves, Isis, to victory last year. In addition there is a Canadian in each crew - Brad Crombie, the Cambridge president, and Morgan Crooks, rowing at No 6 for Oxford. Two Germans stroke the crews, Colin von Ettingshausen for Oxford and Tim Wooge for the Light Blues. Other than that, this is a British, and an undergraduate, event. Of the 18 there are seven Britons rowing and one cox [Vian Sharif of Cambridge] and two rowers are freshmen, Tom Stallard of Cambridge and Dan Snow opposite him.

At the end of the University term 10 days ago, Cambridge trounced an Austrian crew from Gmunden, who last weekend, with a slightly different line-up, finished sixth in Britain at the Tideway Head of the River race. On the same day Oxford raced Queen's Tower, which is the national eight, at least until the Boat Race oarsmen are released. Oxford counted it a victory both in actual speed shown and also in character under pressure. Queen's Tower then won the Head. It is possible to argue that the Boat Race crews are the two fastest eights in the country and close to each other.

When it is this close much depends on the two coxes. O'Donnell looks wasted at 7 st 13lb, while Sharif looks comfortable at 6st 10 lb.

But weight is of little importance compared with who is better at being able to find the line in the river where the current flows fastest, then holding it against the challenges of the other. Rowing is meant to be a non-contact sport but in recent years coxes on both sides have shown a willingness to mix it with the blades overlapping and clashing.

The umpire and race organisers gave a strong lecture yesterday to emphasise how willing the umpire Mark Evans - a Canadian and Olympic gold medallist while rowing for Oxford in 1984 - is to exercise his final sanction of disqualification, in spite of the havoc that would cause to the television schedules and the Question of Sport formbook.

BOAT RACE WEIGH-IN (GB unless stated): Oxford University: Bow C P A Humphreys (president), Oriel College age 22, height 6ft 31/2in, weight 13st 1.5lb; No 2 L H K Nilsson (Swe) Hertford College, 30 6ft 31/4in, 14st 2lb; No 3 D R Snow, Balliol Coll, 20, 6ft 6in, 15st 12lb; No 4 T H Ayer (US), Worcester College, 24, 6ft 5in, 16st 05lb; No 5 M M Croty (US) Keble College, 23, 6ft 5in, 14st 10lb; No 6 M A L Crooks (Can) St Anne's College, 22, 6ft 2in, 14st 4lb; No 7 A J R Lindsay, Brasenose Coll, 22, 6ft 1in, 14st 4lb; Stroke C R D Von Ettingshausen (Ger) Keble College, 27, 6ft 4.05in, 15st 2.05lb; Cox N J O'Donnell (US) Keble College, 23, 5ft 9in, 7st 13.05lb.

Cambridge University: Bow J Wallace, Jesus College, 22, 6ft 7in, 15st 2lb; No 2 T A Stallard, Jesus College, 20, 6ft 33/4in, 13st 8.5lb; No 3 R E B Crombie (president, Can) Peterhouse College, 28, 6ft 6in, 14st 12lb; No 4 A J West (US), Caius College, 22, 6ft 9in, 15st 2.5lbs; No 5 D O M Ellis (US) Trinity Coll, 23, 6ft 5in, 14st 4lb; No 6 K M West, Christ's College, 21, 6ft 8in, 14st 13lb; No 7 G D C R Smith, St Edmund's College, 23, 6ft 33/4in, 14st 21.5 lb; Stroke T Wooge (Ger) Magdalen College, 26, 6ft 73/4in, 15st 2lb; Cox V Sharif, Clare College, 19, 5ft, 6st 101/2in.