Rob Baker and Bill Lucas, in conversation

Rob Baker and Bill Lucas in conversation – always evolving, always getting better

Rob Baker is Chief Men’s Coach at Cambridge University Boat Club and Bill Lucas is Assistant Men’s Coach. In this heartfelt conversation they share their thoughts on the monumental clean sweep of 2023 and the challenges ahead for both Oxford and Cambridge.

We all know what it’s like to watch a closely contested Boat Race – it’s exhilarating, nerve-wracking, and a sensational feeling when your side crosses the finish line first. But what does that feel like when you’ve put your heart and soul into training a crew to perform at their best for the last 7 months? 

How did you feel on the day of the Boat Race last year, when the Cambridge Blue Boat won and completed the clean sweep?

Rob “It’s a great feeling, honestly it feels like completing the most important task you can imagine!”

Bill “Relief was the first emotion! With both men’s races being so tightly contested the result felt in the balance until the bows were across the line. Of course after that it was great to know that everyone in the club had signed off with a win for the Gemini Boat Race 2023.” 

And did anything specifically contribute to that success?

Rob “It comes down to each person in the team doing their job. We don’t all need to be doing the same thing but everyone has to do their bit.” 

Bill “It’s down to the guys working hard, holding themselves and each other accountable and being honest about where their level sits at a given time and what steps need to be taken to move forward, when you have that all season the progress keeps coming.”

In last year’s race, Blue Boat cox Jasper Parish made a controversial coxing decision. Did that have an impact on the outcome of the race?

Rob “It was a bold decision, after we were in front the guys managed the race well, no heroics but I do believe they could have pushed on more, we will never know if it changed the race result” 

Bill “We’d like all of our guys to race on the front foot and be bold, naturally that extends to the coxes, with that in mind Jasper made a judgement call, which was bold but the guys fully bought in and it gave us some traction at that point of the race. Who knows if it determined the outcome.”

In 2020, the three university rowing clubs merged to become one new club for all men and women, openweight and lightweight. Were there any obvious benefits of merging the clubs and what effect has it had on the success of CUBC?

Rob “The key factor is each team and each member, be it coach, athlete or other staff member doing their job well. The men’s and women’s teams will run their programmes differently which is absolutely fine, as long as each one is delivered to the highest level. 

Where we see the greatest benefits is in managing the facilities well, collaborating and working together on the operations behind the scenes to make the club run most effectively. Being a unified club means everyone has access to the same facilities and equipment. And the students all support each other so they feel a strong sense of community. There’s a lot of pressure on the athletes, so that’s really important.”

Bill “It’s a tricky one for me to answer as I joined CUBC post merger so it’s all I’ve known of the Club. I think the two programmes sit comfortably within the unified Club, independence on training systems etc and at the same time there is good cohesion when working through logistics and operational factors. That being said, we’re not long into unification and we’re continually trying to improve how we work to make sure we have the best environment possible.” 

Have you done anything different this year to improve the squads performance?

Rob “Always evolving, always trying to improve in every area!”

Bill “We have a very thorough review every year and identify areas where we want to make improvements, this season has been no different. The key thing is evolution not revolution. We know the base structure to our programme has merit and its detailing to find improvements.”

The running costs at CUBC are a constant challenge – investing in new equipment, paying for travel and accommodation, providing student-athlete wellness programmes, etc. Have there been any additions to the Club this year and how important are those?

Rob “We’re lucky to be able to use new sets of telemetry which are key to us monitoring and pushing the limits of what’s possible – it’s become an essential part of our programme. We have two new fours this season too – very important boats that we use in Fours Head preparation.”

Bill “I’d say the key thing has been two new coxed fours – a real shame we weren’t able to see them race at Fours Head due to the race being cancelled, but they are great additions to our fleet. We have also been able to replace an older minibus – not as exciting as new boats but an important part of the logistics of keeping the club running.”

The crews were able to take part in training camps in January, something else that’s funded by donors – how important is that to the students’ training and why?

Rob “January camp is always a big moment for our team. Alums will remember good and tough times away that were integral to success in years gone by. Being away from Cambridge in slightly better weather and locked into our focus solely on rowing is key to set up the term ahead.”

Bill “We had a great camp, very productive. It’s a fantastic way to start the year, the change of venue keeps things fresh for the guys and we’re able to really accelerate the progress. The centre we went to is arguably the best in the world – great water, facilities and nutrition. It allows us to train harder because the guys can recover better. Once we’re back at home their study commitments kick in and we need to find the balance within the programme.” 

In the run up to the Boat Race, what are the most important things to focus on?
Rob “Managing the academic workload as well as a busy term of training and racing is a challenge. Trying to be 100% focused on our rowing performance everytime we hit the water is key.”

Bill “The big thing is tuning up the racing instincts and building consistency in delivering a high quality aggressive racing pattern. We’re into fixture season very soon, we want to hit the ground running with that but we know there will be some very valuable lessons learnt along the way – the intention is always that we get better because of the racing we’ve done.” 

Using the ergs at Goldie
Rob and Bill, men’s coaches, discuss strategy at Goldie Boathouse Photo Credit: Nordin Catic
Cambridge Trial 8s Photo Credit Row360
Cambridge Trial 8s Photo Credit Row360

So the big question – what are your thoughts on this year’s results – will Cambridge have a good chance of repeating their clean sweep and will the men be bringing home the trophy?

Rob “We of course feel we can win, but the job is the next session, getting better and pushing each other, dwelling on the past or thinking about the result is not helping us to win.” 

Bill “All to be determined! We will, I’m sure, be up against some very strong Oxford crews. That being said, we’re in a good place right now and confident that this year’s Cambridge crews will be fast. But our quality of work over the coming weeks will determine the results so we’ll focus on that.”

Any final thoughts?

Rob “I am always considering where the programme is now and where we need to be in the future, asking myself what we can do to be better and what the future standard looks like. The better funded the programme, the better we are able to maintain high standards of equipment, attract and retain coaching talent, and ensure that we are finding and encouraging the best students to come to Cambridge.  

If you feel you are in a position to give to the Club, whether through a regular gift or a major donation to the endowment (now or by leaving a legacy), please make your gift at You can also email the club or email me directly at [email protected] directly with any questions. We need the widest possible group of alumni, parents and supporters joining in to ensure we are as well prepared as possible to beat Oxford, each and every year.”