Rowing under the name Trident, the South Africans led briefly before the University put their bow ball in front at the barrier just over 600 metres from the start. The South Africans, who have had a long season in Europe and have relished racing at the top level after their years of isolation, kept in close contact. But London stayed ahead to win by a third of a length.
On this evidence the regatta at the Olympic Games in Barcelona will be a source of experience rather than medals for the South Africans.
In the other heat in the Grand Penn AC from the United States, with a former world champion in the No 7 seat, defeated Dartmouth, the fastest American college this year. Today the heat winners meet the selected crews, the lightweight eights of Great Britain and Germany.
The Princess Elizabeth Cup has turned into a fascinating power struggle between four school crews.
Westminster School, stroked by the 17-year-old junior world champion, Graham Smith, gained a comfortable victory over Kingston Grammar School. Today they race Shiplake College, who also had an easy row against Radley B.
In the other half of the draw Pangbourne, stroked by another junior champion, Richard Hamilton, romped home against Monmouth School. They now meet King's School from Chester.
However, King's School looked uncomfortable against Cheltenham, who held a small lead at one stage of the race.
King's managed to push in front at Fawley and had gained a quarter of a length when Stephen Finch, the Cheltenham stroke, lost his oar after the gate broke and the race ended with only two thirds of the course completed.
The heavy rain which has fallen throughout the regatta will eventually defeat the Thames Conservancy, who attempt to reduce the flow of the stream during racing, and for the last two days there may be some advantage to crews on the Berkshire station. King's School Chester will stay on that side as long as they keep winning.
The four semi-finalists will provide most of the rowers for the pool of oarsman from which the junior national team will be selected in time for the World Championships, which start in Montreal on 12 August.
Nottinghamshire County Rowing Association will definitely supply one of the finalists in the Wyfold Cup for coxless fours as its A and B crews were both victorious yesterday and will meet today in the semi-finals.
The B crew were eased on their way when their opponents, Nottingham and Union, crashed twice into the timber booms which line the course and struggled thereafter to get on back on terms.
Today's programme includes the debut of a new event, the Fawley Challenge Cup for junior quadruple sculls.
Sweden have been particularly strong in senior quadruple sculls recently and they have sent a composite crew which will race against another combination from King's School and Royal Chester.
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