For fans of the Boat Race it’s easy to associate the Championship Course with the Oxford and Cambridge crews and forget that these students are just visitors. This particular stretch of the Thames is lined with rowing clubs, all of whom call this water home and have no choice but to master this demanding stretch of river as they train week in, week out.

So who better for Cambridge Women to challenge to a duel than locals Thames Rowing Club, fierce opposition who have enjoyed a run of success at club level including a recent win in the Wargrave Cup at Henley Royal Regatta, several of that triumphant crew turning up to face the light blues in the fixture.

With heavy rainfall upstream threatening to make the original racing schedule unworkable the umpires and coaches agreed a reduced racing programme with all crews racing a single piece from the Boat Race start to Chiswick Steps (a little over half way). With a busy day of racing planned for both Oxford and Cambridge it was testament to the cooperative spirit that exists between the clubs that a swift agreement was reached under constantly changing conditions.

Under the gaze of Umpire Richard Phelps the two crews thundered out of the blocks and for the first minute there was nothing in it, it was only when the two crews approached the Black Buoy that the two crews started to separate.

Reminiscent of Jasper Parish’s stunning move in the 2023 Men’s Boat Race, Cambridge Women’s cox Hannah Murphy veered her crew towards Fulham Football Club’s Riverside Stand in order to explore any possible advantage there might be by cutting the corner, perhaps motivated by the weak tide rather than the surface conditions the direct line helped the crew establish a half length lead through the three minute mark.

However the Thames crew were unfazed. With a powerful, long and relentless rhythm it didn’t take long for them to gobble up the light blue’s lead and establish a lead of their own just as the advantage of the Hammersmith bend came into play, piling pressure onto the Cambridge crew who now faced the prospect of having to row right around the outside of the bend.

With a comfortable half length lead round the bend past St Pauls’s School it looked like Thames we’re going to keep the upper hand but in the final throes the Cambridge Crew showed their mettle, determinedly trying to close the gap it came right down to the wire and the result came down to a review from the bank. The official margin… 1 foot. To Thames.

Of the fixture, Thames Coach Jamie Brown had this to say: “Today’s fixture against Cambridge was fantastic prep for our crews ahead of the Women’s Head of the River in March.  Having the opportunity to do an extended piece under competitive pressure allowed us to test our rowing pattern to its limits and find new areas for growth as we build into the rest of the season.  We always enjoy working with the Cambridge and Oxford crews – although our competitive peak is June, getting high-quality side-by-side racing at a relatively early point in our cycle helps us to build momentum and get the most out of the tough winter months on the Tideway.“

In response the Cambridge Women’s Coach Paddy Ryan said: “Today was great opportunity to really challenge ourselves with another great fixture. Thames RC is an important part of my journey in our sport, so i always want to ensure we bring our A game.

As the tide has been a challenge due to the flooding upriver, it is making this year a series of challenges that we need to explore as a club. This is potentially our last opportunity to explore the Fulham wall as an option if we face similar circumstances on Boat Race Day.

The athletes showed great character holding on on the outside of the surrey bend to come back and lose by 1’ at today’s finish the Chiswick steps.

We learnt a lot about the river and ourselves. Excited to see what we can bring to WeHORR and The Boat Race.

Thank you Thames for your continued hospitality and great racing.”

Also racing today in an unofficial fixture was Cambridge Men against the force that is Oxford Brookes. Rob Baker gave us a short overview of the action:

“A tough battle as usual with Oxford Brookes, we started well and got out to almost a length by Fulham football ground, some aggressive steering meant there were a lot of clashes out of Fulham and up to the mile post, during this time Brooke’s pulled back and we went into Harrods level. Brookes were able to use the bend and push out to 3/4 of a length clear.  

We will push on and look forward to our fixture with Leander in two weeks time.”