STROUD oarsman Steve Tuck provided a stroke of genius as he drove his US college rowing eight to victory in an epic Henley final by just three feet,writes Nick Hartland.

The 22-year-old strokeman brought his California Berkeley University crew to the Thames with hopes of victory after a first US national college eights title in years, and they duly delivered in a classic Ladies Plate international 8s final at the 175th anniversary Royal Regatta.

After disposing of a New York/California crew containing five Olympians in the quarter-finals, former Monmouth School pupil Tuck led his crew to semi-final victory over the GB U23 squad by 1/2L.

Henley-based final opponents Leander went five seconds faster as they rowed down Americans Brown University by feet in the last few strokes, but the Old Monmothian said: "We knew what they were capable of, but we backed ourselves to get in front and then hold them out."

Leander blasted out into an early two-foot lead, but strokeman Tuck, rating two pips higher than the Brits, had his crew fractionally in front by the quarter-mile mark, a lead which had stretched to 1/2L by the half-mile and 3/4L by half way.

Then the Leander fightback began, as they whittled California's lead to 1/3L at the 1 1/8th-mile mark roared on by the 10,000-strong home crowd along the enclosures.

But Tuck lifted his men for the line and they held off a furious last-20 stroke assault by three feet to take the trophy back across the Atlantic.

"We knew they'd throw the kitchen sink at us up the enclosures if we were up, but we backed ourselves and just had enough to stay there," said the delighted GB junior cap, who won a sports scholarship to his US university.

"We were down off the blocks, but we trusted in our race plan to stay long and high and come through and lead them.

"Slowly we edged out to 3/4L, but we knew from the day before that they had a great finish, and it was just a question of whether we'd done enough to hold them out, and luckily we had.

"I'm just thrilled and I'm so proud of the guys, some of whom were racing for the last time."