While the riverbank crowd watched nervously, the guiding hand of the Waikato University crew was the most confident participant in the finish of yesterday's Great Race.
Coxswain Ainslee Ashton pushed her rowing eight to victory over Oxford University despite the visitors having the favoured side of the Waikato River to finish on in the battle for the Harry Mahon Trophy.
The home team led from the start but, with Oxford in calmer water, there were concerns Waikato might get mowed down in the dying stages.
Not for Ashton though.
Were you confident you were going to win?
"I was when we went three lengths clear in the last bit," Ashton said. "That's exactly how I would have wanted it to go last year."
Ashton was the cox of the Waikato crew that was pipped in last year's race against Cambridge University. Ashton's performance and that of the crew of Dane Boswell, Daniel Murtagh, Nathan Twaddle, Adam Tripp, Tobias Wehr-Candler, Nathan Cohen, Joseph Sullivan and Duncan Grant yesterday drew praise from victorious coach Ross Tong.
"It was a fantastic win for Waikato University and for New Zealand rowing, given the calibre of the Oxford crew," he said.
The visitors contained a host of Olympians, including New Zealand bronze medallist George Bridgewater, and were convincing winners over Cambridge University in this year's Boat Race.
"Ainslee did a great job for us it's such a coxswain's race."
Tong admitted after the hosts lost the coin toss before the race, which enabled Oxford to choose the preferred side of the river to finish on, that Waikato "would have chosen the west bank, too".
"But we had a really good look at the river this morning and knew we could be patient and make a decision in the running of the race when to go.
"The third cross was a key point to put ourselves in such a good position. Attacking the crossings gave us the opportunities we wanted to be ahead by two lengths minimum under the last bridge," Tong said.
Waikato raced out to an early lead and gradually increased their advantage.
Passing under the Fairfield Bridge they were two lengths clear of the Oxford crew of cox Andy Hay, Colin Smith, Bridgewater, Brodie Buckland, Alex Hearne, Justin Stangel, Michal Plotkowiak, Michael Valli and Colin Keogh.
They were three lengths clear passing beneath the Claudelands Bridge and, although Oxford tried their utmost to claw back the deficit, the gap was too great.
In the women's race for the Bryan Gould Cup, Sydney University pulled off the feat Oxford couldn't manage when they chased down Waikato University in the final stages.
The hosts again lost the coin toss and this time it proved costly.
Waikato powered away at the start and led comfortably at every crossing of the river as both crews at times hit their oars against overhanging willow branches as they attempted to hug the banks.
The home crew of cox Ivan Pavich, Erin Tolhurst, Odette Sceats, Lucy Spoors, Emma Twigg, Ali Burnside, Laura Fischer, Regan Barkla and Julia Trauvetter seemed set for victory as they led by two lengths with less than 500 metres to row.
But the visiting eight of cox Ali Williams, Sally Kehoe, Charlotte Walters, Liz Kell, Sarah Cook, Emma Costello, Ailsa Tremayne, Ashleigh Peppernell and Emma Cook powered home, as Waikato tied up, to snatch victory by a third of a length.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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