Princeton-conquerors Newcastle University see remarkable Henley Regatta week crushed in grudge match

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Thrilling Henley Regatta week sees heartbreak for Newcastle University

What had been a fairytale Henley Regatta campaign for Newcastle University turned into heartbreak on Friday morning as fierce local rivals Durham University crushed Blue Star dreams.

Both of the North East universities have boats competing across several events at the hallowed regatta but attention had been drawn to the women's eights in the Island Challenge Cup.

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The event was only introduced at Henley Regatta in 2021 in one of President Sir Steve Redgrave's sweeping measures to break the sometimes-dated structure of the competition and allow women to compete - the 2023 edition of the event has seen further changes with club rowers from across the globe able to challenge dominating schools such as Eton College, Abingdon School and St. Paul's School.

The Newcastle University women's eight had dazzled the rowing world on Wednesday morning with a shock win over revered American crew Princeton University.

The Ivy League rowers travelled 3,500 miles to Henley-on-Thames to compete in the event and were much fancied to get the better of the River Tyne athletes. However, a ferocious Newcastle start was backed by gutsy rowing over the 2,112-metre course to claim the major scalp.

A tough draw continued for Newcastle, who faced more international challengers in Dutch boat R.S.V.U Okeanos on Thursday. Snapping into an early lead again, the Blue Star rowers saw off a sustained push from the Dutch women to book a place in Friday's quarter-final.

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After conquering boats from across the world, it was a derby meeting in today's Island Challenge race with Newcastle University drawing rowdy neighbours Durham University.

The two clubs are familiar with one another thanks to the varsity rivalry which reignites every year at the annual Boat Race of the North under the iconic bridges of the River Tyne. Earlier this year, it was the Newcastle women's first eight that won that meeting, making it eight years in a row for that category.

Newcastle University beat crews from American and the Netherlands in a memorable week of racing (Image: Ben Rodford Photography)Newcastle University beat crews from American and the Netherlands in a memorable week of racing (Image: Ben Rodford Photography)
Newcastle University beat crews from American and the Netherlands in a memorable week of racing (Image: Ben Rodford Photography)

However, Durham University proved a different outfit on the Henley stretch of water, no doubt buoyed with confidence having beaten internatioanl competition in Havard's Radcliffe Crew the day before themselves.

In the lead-up to Friday's race, Newcastle four-seat Jess Procter-Crozier said: "We’re ecstatic. It's amazing that we've actually managed to get through to this point because you never know what the Draw is going to be like and so you're always a bit unsure and so being able to make it into the Friday is amazing.

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"We’d like to make it to the weekend, but we're just going to see who we're going to be racing against tomorrow, and then take it from there"

Setting off down the course at 10:15 this morning, Newcastle University got a taste of their own medicine with an aggressive Durham University crew blasting off the start to gain a lead by the end of the island. Newcastle challenged down the Henley course but, as the boats came past the enclosures, it was clear that Durham had the grudge match very much under their control.

Durham University won the North East grudge match on Friday (Image: HRR Photo)Durham University won the North East grudge match on Friday (Image: HRR Photo)
Durham University won the North East grudge match on Friday (Image: HRR Photo)

Durham cox Hermione Hill said: “We travelled all the way from the north just to end up racing Newcastle again. But it was nice to turn the tables on the Boat Race of the North and have one last run against them this season.

“There was a fair amount of pressure, we knew there was a job to do but nothing we couldn’t handle. The blinkers were on and we were in our own game.”

Durham University will compete in the semi-final of the Island Challenge Cup on Saturday, July 1.

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