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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 December, 2003, 22:19 GMT
Oxford coxes vie for key seat
By Martin Gough

In a sport dominated by towering athletes, two men under 5ft 9ins are the biggest bullies in Oxford's Boat Race squad.

Oxford's trial race passes the flats before Hammersmith
Oxford's coxing candidates fought hard in Ruck and Maul
The two leading Dark Blue coxes are determined to fight tooth-and-nail for the chance to take on Cambridge on 28 March.

Oxford have an embarrassment of riches in their steering seats, and the two leading candidates used this week's trial on the Thames to state their cases.

The opposing boats, in tribute to the sporting mood, were named Ruck and Maul, and the two lived up to their names in a hard-fought race.

Coxing Maul was Pete Hackworth, 21, who was at the helm when Oxford won a thrilling 2002 Boat Race by three-quarters of a length.

Piloting Ruck was Acer Nethercott, 26, who took the steering seat in the Dark Blue boat for the 2003 race, when Oxford downed their arch-rivals by a single foot.

Hackworth spent a year studying in Italy last year and Nethercott, his reserve the previous year, made the most of his opportunity.

Peter Hackworth
I've got a good knowledge of the course because I was here when I was younger
Pete Hackworth
"Having two coxes who've won is a real plus for us," coach Sean Bowden told this website.

"They both have different qualities so we'll have to figure out which is the right mix for the crew."

On the turbulent Thames, good coxing is vital to gain possession of the fastest water.

With their jockey-sized steersmen to the fore, Oxford's trial boats rucked and mauled along the whole of the four-and-a-quarter-mile course.

Nethercott's crew took an early lead, moving up by a quarter of a length after a mile.

But Hackworth's eight were rowing more efficiently and took advantage of some rough water to move into a half-length lead by Hammersmith Bridge.

Although Ruck fought hard around the long bend through the middle of the course, Maul were a length ahead by the finish in Mortlake.

First blood went to Hackworth but it will be difficult to decide which cox is better.

"You've got to be quite in tune with the guys you race with, have a quick mind and be very assertive," Hackworth explained.

"Rowers really respect people who want to win - the same as they do - and if you can display that they're going to want to race with you."

Acer Nethercott
I'm more in tune with my crew, I get the technical side of stuff - the whole package
Acer Nethercott
Hackworth, who grew up locally and learnt to row on this stretch of river, believes that knowledge could count in his favour.

"I've got previous Boat Race experience - although Acer's got that as well - a good feel for the boat and a will to win," he added.

"I've been to watch the Boat Race every year since I was six so it's something of a dream for me to do it, and now I've won I want to do it again and win by more."

Nethercott lives up to the Latin translation of his first name, which means "fierce, keen and eager".

"You can over-complicate and analyse it as much as you want but I'm just a better cox ," he said simply.

"I'm more in tune with my crew, I get the technical side of stuff - the whole package."

Perhaps surprisingly, the two men are friends off the water.

"Our real competion isn't each other at all: our real competition is two guys over in Tab-land [Cambridge]," Nethercott added.

"The competition between the two of us is a means to an end to ensure that Oxford has it's best cox in the blue boat and its second-best cox in the Isis [reserve] seat."

"And then we'll take on the Cambridge guys."

  • Look out for news of Cambridge's trial race on 19 December.

    Oxford coach Sean Bowden
    "If the cox is someone the crew rely on it takes the pressure off"

    Little things count
    31 Mar 03  |  Boat Race 2003
    All in the same boat
    31 Mar 03  |  Boat Race 2003


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