Men’s eight set up a Henley final to relish

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World Champion Paul Bennett is relishing the prospect of a “side-by-side, honest battle” against old rivals Germany after the GB Rowing Team men’s eight set up a super Sunday showdown for The Grand Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta.

The women’s eight also made good progress through their Remenham Challenge Cup semi-final, as did the GB women’s quad in the Princess Grace Challenge Cup.

The two men’s pairs heading to next weekend’s World Cup in Lucerne – James Foad and Matt Langridge, and Oliver Cook and Stewart Innes – set up an all-GBRT Silver Goblets & Nickalls’ Challenge Cup final after winning their semis.

John Collins and Jonny Walton eased through their Double Sculls Challenge Cup semi-final and the men’s four booked their place in the Stewards’ Challenge Cup final, where they will face the Greek crew they beat to European gold in Poznan five weeks ago.

Saturday’s semi-final action began with the GB men’s eight, racing as Leander Club & Molesey BC, making light of a headwind to comfortably beat Australia’s national eight.

That ensured the twice World Champions will once again battle it out with reigning Olympic and European Champions Germany, a fortnight after pipping them in a thrilling final at the Varese World Cup.

“I am actually really excited about facing Germany here,” said Bennett, who was joined in the GB boat by Matt Gotrel, Constantine Louloudis, Pete Reed, Moe Sbihi, Alex Gregory, George Nash, Will Satch and cox Phelan Hill.

“In terms of crowd and atmosphere, that race on this course will be incredible.

“We obviously usually race six lanes but this will be a real side-by-side, honest battle. We have been back and forth the last few times we have raced each other, so I really don’t know what is going to happen. It’s just going to be a genuine, hard race fought tooth and nail.

“Respect to the Germans for coming over. I love a good race and I love a good race here at Henley, and they don’t get much better than against the Germans. They must back themselves to beat us but we’ll find out tomorrow.”

On the performance against Australia, Bennett added: “I think it was a bit scrappy – you could probably see that on the new drone footage!

“Fair play to the Australians. We didn’t know much about them and they hung with us. It was a good race.”

Germany coach Ralf Holtmeyer said his crew – racing as RC Hansa Dortmund – are eagerly awaiting the chance to take on the Brits on their home water.

“We like racing here – it’s very British, it’s different to other international regattas and the boys like it,” he said.

“[The European Championships in] Poznan was not the normal form of the British eight. After Poznan we said the potential of the British eight is higher and Varese was the higher level. And now we see.”

The women’s eight – racing as Leander Club and Imperial College London – were pleased with their improved performance against an Oxford UWBC and Radcliffe, USA composite featuring a number of Women’s Boat Race winners.

They shrugged off a delayed start to win by two-and-a-quarter lengths and Olivia Carnegie-Brown, a Henley local, believes there is no reason why they can’t continue their winning form against the Canadian national crew in Sunday’s final.

“I definitely think we can beat Canada if we row to our best and we have a massive advantage here being on home water,” she said.

“It’s another opportunity for us to show the steps we have made in the past couple of weeks. We’ll give it a really good go tomorrow, I’m looking forward to it.

“I grew up in and around Henley so it’s really special for me that all my family and friends can be here to watch. I always get a lot of people shouting my name from the bank – the crew say that I win on the chants front!”

The Silver Goblets & Nickalls’ Challenge Cup is turning into a domestic battle, with European champions Foad and Langridge beating fellow GB rowers Callum McBrierty and Mat Tarrant in their semi-final.

That set up a final showdown with Cook and Innes, who produced one of the performances of the day to overhaul South Africa’s David Hunt and Shaun Keeling – the latter a pair bronze-medalist at the World Championships last year.

“That was a really good race,” beamed Cook.

“The South Africans are a classy pair and we knew they would go off quickly but we were confident we had a good race pace.

“So when they went off hard, we knew it was going to happen and it was just a case of keeping our nerve. We stuck with them, then stepped it up a bit and drew level, then gave it another push and managed to pull away.

“We are so pleased that the plan paid off. Races like today will give us a lot of confidence.”

On facing Foad and Langridge in Sunday’s final, Cook added: “It is going to be a really great race, they are an awesome pair.”

McBrierty and Tarrant, having reached the pair final at the Varese World Cup, will contest the coxed pair in Lucerne with Henry Fieldman.

“It will be good having Henry back on board to give us his insight,” said Tarrant.

“Callum and I have been together for about four weeks now and there are still a lot of hurdles for us to jump over but we are learning all the time.

“Today wasn’t the result we wanted but it was kind of the result we expected. James and Matt are such a fast crew, it’s been good fun training with them and seeing how our times compare with theirs.”

Another European Championship-winning crew in action on Sunday will be the men’s four of Alan Sinclair, Scott Durant, Tom Ransley and Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell.

They recorded a two-and-a-quarter length semi-final win over a University of Pretoria crew stroked by Sizwe Ndlovu, a London 2012 Olympic gold-medalist in the lightweight men’s four.

“The South Africans were a bit of an unknown quantity – their stroke man has obviously got a pretty good pedigree – so we were knew they weren’t going to be a pushover and we’d have to bring our A game,” said Sinclair.

“We delivered a solid row and are happy with how it went.”

On the prospect of facing the Greek four in the final, Sinclair added: “Hopefully we’ll be able to reproduce something along the lines of the Europeans but we know they’ll be looking to improve as well. As long as we stick to our guns, we’ll be alright.”

The GB women’s quad of Melanie Wilson, Tina Stiller, Frances Houghton and Jess Leyden will contest the Princess Grace Challenge Cup final after a comfortable victory over Brown University, USA.

“We’re trying different things as a crew and it’s good to see them come off,” said Leyden, the youngest member. “It’s just more and more race experience, and I’m learning more and more things.

“The whole atmosphere at Henley is completely different to anything else. This is only my second one – I did the single last year and didn’t get through the first round, so I’m enjoying this experience more!”

Collins and Walton also impressed as they beat the Graves brothers from Craftsbury Sculling Centre, USA by two lengths.

That set up a tasty Double Sculls Challenge Cup final clash with South Africa’s James Thompson and John Smith, reigning World Champions in the lightweight ranks.

Completing the GB finalists on Sunday are the quad of Angus Groom, Sam Townsend, Graeme Thomas and Peter Lambert, who will contest the Queen Mother Challenge Cup with Rostocker R-C & Potsdamer R-G.

“They are the German under-23 crew so we know they are no slouches,” said Lambert.

“It is Henley and we know anything can happen, so we’ve got to make sure we are fully prepared.

“This is my fourth Henley and I love it here. It’s really nice to have the local crowds supporting us and it’s particularly nice to see so many people interested in rowing, it’s really cool.”

There will also be GB interest in the Prince of Wales Challenge Cup final, where European medalists Joel Cassells and Jack Beaumont will be on opposing crews.

Cassells’ Leander Club and Oxford Brookes University crew overcame an Imperial College London and Agecroft RC quad including fellow GB lightweight Zak Lee-Green.

Beaumont and his Leander Club colleagues defeated a Cardiff University and Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School composite featuring several U23 World Championship hopefuls.

Sunday’s Henley Royal Regatta finals start at 11.30am and will be shown live on the YouTube channel at www.hrr.co.uk or via the BBC Red Button.

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