Sydney Uni take victory in Gallagher Great Race

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The Harry Mahon Trophy is heading over the Tasman for the first time in its 11-year history, as the Sydney University’s men’s eight crew rowed a strategically superior Gallagher Great Race on Sunday.

After fighting a pitched battle in the early stages of the race, Sydney Uni came from behind to defeat the University of Waikato crew on the 3.85km upstream course on the fast flowing Waikato River through central Hamilton.

Amongst steady rain, Waikato and Sydney Uni both started well, but it was Waikato that eventually prevailed in the race for the bank and the preferred sheltered position along New Zealand’s longest river.

The two crews, which had already established a break on the University of Queensland eight in the three-boat race, clashed oars on numerous occasions, seemingly forcing race umpires to order Sydney Uni to move into the middle of the river.

But the Sydney Uni crew of Alexander Belonogoff, Ryan Edwards, Nicholas Purnell, Christopher Cunningham-Reid, Ryan Barraclough, Thomas Sacre, Nick Wheatley, Hamish Playfair and coxswain Toby Lister, were reluctant to do so as Lister impressed on his crew the need to stay close to Waikato and to be ready when the opportunity opened up.

“We knew it was going to be like that,” Lister said of the close racing and battle for positions.

“We’ve been watching videos from past races. We tried to put a bit of pressure on Waikato to stay against the bank, they tried to put pressure on us to get us into the stream.

“So it was a good tussle early on.

Sydney Uni instead settled in behind Waikato, and as the hosts drew out to a two-length lead, it seemed as if Sydney Uni’s challenge was fading.

But Lister directed his oarsmen to head to the eastern bank as they neared the final bridge and when Waikato crossed to join them, the hosts had to give way, and couldn’t bridge the gap.

Lister said they had experimented in training during the week about which would be the better side to approach the latter stages of the race.

“And I just had a bit of a gut feeling, it was just a bit quicker on that side.

“It was a gamble we had to take – it could have either worked or it couldn’t – luckily for us it did.”

Victory meant that Sydney Uni became only the second foreign crew to win the Harry Mahon Trophy since the race’s inception.

Earlier in the day Sydney Uni’s women’s eight crew, led by Olympians Sally Kehoe and Sarah Cook took an early lead over Waikato. 

Unfortunately Sydney Uni allowed themselves to end up a little wide off the bank, which permitted Waikato to make a push on the inside.

Waikato were able to take the lead and held on to finish in front of the Sydney Uni girls to take out the Bryan Gould Cup. Brisbane Uni finished in third place.