Sydney University Elite Athlete Program (EAP) scholarship holder and coxswain Will Raven will long remember the 2011 Australian Boat Race, held on the Yarra River in Melbourne on Sunday, when Sydney University triumphed over Melbourne University by the narrowest of margins after a 4.2km epic.

Click here for a highlights package of the race.

Raven used a bend on the Yarra, inside the final two kilometres, to squeeze Melbourne University into the bank, allowing Sydney University to reclaim the lead and hold on for victory.

“He steered a perfect course,” Sydney University coach Mark Prater said. “He kept the guys calm and in control.”

The coxed eight Australian Boat Race was resurrected last year after a 150-year “pause”, and Sydney University held sway on the Sydney Harbour course. But they weren’t favourites before taking on Melbourne on part of the old King’s Cup course down the Yarra yesterday.

That they won by a margin reckoned to be “two inches” by Melbourne University coach Alex Henshilwood, spoke highly of their tactics and also of the stamina of the crew.

“This is early days for the Australian Boat Race,” Henshilwood said. “Match races are often shut down after 1500m. To have a race come down to the wire is pretty rare, a once in 50-year occurrence. To have that in the second race, we’ve been spoilt.”

Stroke of the victorious eight, Fergus Pragnell, who was in the fourth-placed Australian crew at this year’s world titles in Slovenia, said it was one of his most painful experiences on the water.

“We wanted to start hard, that first half of the race,” he said of Sydney University’s tactic of opening an early lead from the northern lane.

“We spoke about have three big pushes in the first two kilometers, and probably expected that by being so aggressive we would be out in front. But we used those pushes to keep in contact (after Melbourne University retaliated and passed the visitors at the 500m mark).”

Sydney University’s tactics came to the fore when they came to an inside bend on the Yarra and Raven used the corner to push Melbourne University to the bank, gain an advantage and reclaim the lead.

“We try to be very aggressive because when we needed to make the most of our lane we had to push the rules,” Raven said.

Sydney had won the toss and taken the northern station but both crews started close to the southern bank, looking for shelter from a south-westerly wind.

Sydney took the early lead as both crews started well in the 40s but Melbourne fought back and grabbed the lead as Sydney continued to press them hard towards the southern bank.

At the second bridge Sydney moved sharply towards the left as they sought to straighten their run across the turn and at the same time bought their rate back up and grabbed the lead again.

As the 2km mark approached Melbourne again attacked Sydney’s lead and moved out to nearly a length clear. Sydney, who had been rating above Melbourne were able to settle into a better rhythm and with 1.2km to go caught Melbourne and established a half length advantage as the crews passed Crown Casino.

Sydney were now looking winners as the last bridge – Princes – was approached. Both crews were again close into the south bank as they began their final fun past boathouse row to the line – Sydney on the outside and Melbourne on the southern bank cutting back their lead with every stroke.

On the line Sydney held on by the narrowest of margins – about one foot in the imperial system – to take out what was an epic race in which the lead changed three times and in which the two crews gave no quarter and attacked every stroke of the race.

Sydney had national A representatives Fergus Pragnell and Nick Hudson (Sydney University EAP scholarship holder) in their boat with Cam McKenzie McHarg and James Marburg adding their class to the Melbourne boat.

“It was an absolute dog race the whole way down,” Sydney’s men’s captain and London Olympics hopeful Hudson said. “We didn’t row that well in the first half of the race and they got a bit of a lead on us, but then we hit a great rhythm in the middle and crept back up on them.”

Melbourne University had earlier won the coxed women’s eight down the same course, from Victoria Dock, eastwards into the city and on to the Melbourne University Boat Club.

With national senior A representatives Kim Crow, Sarah Tait, Robyn Selby-Smith and Alice McNamara on board, the Melbourne crew took an early lead and extended it throughout the race to win by a large margin.

Sydney University collected the “Edmund Barton” trophy for the men’s win, while Melbourne University collected the “Belinda Guerin” Trophy for the women’s eight.