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Holly Bennett
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Home advantage counted for little today, with the University of Melbourne finishing behind University of Sydney in this year’s Australian Boat Race.

Hundreds of spectators lined the banks of the Yarra River to watch the iconic 4.1km race from Burnley to the boat sheds on Boathouse Drive.

In the men’s eight, Sydney, led by economics student William Raver and headlined by Rio Olympians Cameron Girdlestone and Alexander ‘Sasha’ Belonogoff, broke free early on, finishing the race three boat lengths ahead of Melbourne.

Making his debut, Melbourne men’s eight captain Jackson Harrison says although his crew held their own, they simply couldn’t keep up with their Sydney counterparts.

“There was a lot of hype and nervous jitters on the start line,” says the Master of Teaching student.

“We took about 90 seconds to settle into our pace, which is where Sydney was most punishing. I’m happy with how we performed.”

As the younger crew, Melbourne coach Franz Imfeld congratulated the men on a tough battle.

“I’m pleased with how the men performed,” he says.

“They showed their fitness, but also their lack of experience. Being able to hold their line for the entire race and keep up, rather than let Sydney fly away, was impressive.”

In almost a replica of the men’s race, the women’s eight began with an incredibly close start but it wasn’t long before Sydney, fuelled with desire to break Melbourne’s eight year winning streak, took a commanding lead.

Stuck rowing in Sydney’s wash, commentators said Melbourne lacked the aggression needed to make the comeback from almost three boat lengths behind.

Despite the loss, India McKenzie, women’s eight captain and Bachelor of Environments student is already looking forward to next year.

“We executed our race plan, but unfortunately Sydney were just the stronger crew on the day,” she says.

“We had a great time preparing and today just adds fuel to the fire. We look forward to coming up to Sydney next year for another crack at it, and bringing the trophy back to where it belongs.”

In the college races, the glory was shared, with Sydney’s St Andrew’s College winning the men’s eight and Melbourne’s Ormond College crossing the finish line first for the women’s.

Based on the famous Cambridge v Oxford University Boat Race, the on-water rivalry between the two sandstone universities stretches back to 1860 when they first raced against one another on the Yarra River.