Few expected New Zealand's eights to make a significant wave at these world championships.

It was thought to be more of a proving ground with the London Olympics in 2012 a possible target, depending on performances this week. But yesterday, the men's eight delivered a highly encouraging statement, beating home Olympic champions Canada and just being shaded by defending world champs Germany in their heat. The fact it was their first race together over 2000m added to the quality of the effort.

The young women's crew finished third in their heat, eclipsing the Germans but trailing two of the more formidable combinations, Canada and Romania and put up the sixth best time of the nine nations. Both have two places available for Sunday's six-boat finals out of their repechages tomorrow.

Those were the only New Zealand crews in action yesterday and older rowing heads could be forgiven for letting the mind wander back almost 30 years to the back-to-back world championship eights wins of 1982 and'83.

It's been a while since New Zealand were decent players in the blue riband event. It has slipped since the emphasis was switched, with considerable success, to the smaller boats some years ago. Three years ago, New Zealand sent two eights to the Olympic Games qualifying regatta at Lucerne. The women finished fifth - the top two qualified - and the men 10th. Go back further and the other great eights triumphs were the European championships of 1971 and the Munich Olympic gold a year later. But feet are very much on the ground round these New Zealand crews. For a start, for all that yesterday's effort by the men was impressive, they've still to confirm a place in the A final.

The eight - Adam Tripp, Tyson Williams, Ian Seymour, Tobias Wehr-Candler, Michael Arms, Sean O'Neill, Chris Harris, stroke Ben Hammond and cox Ivan Pavich - jumped from third to first at the halfway mark. In a race in which only the winner directly advanced to the final, they were still 1.2s up on the Germans going into the last 500m.

At the line, the Germans crossed in 5min 24.62s, .78s ahead of the New Zealanders with China 3.77s back in third and the Canadians a surprising 5s off the pace.

"There's still a job to be done," coach Mark Stallard said. "The aim is to get into the A final, so they're not there yet."

If there was a question mark on their capabilities from those on the outer, Stallard had seen positive signs.

"They've shown that potential is there and every now and again we get a glimpse of what they can do. I think they showed a lot of maturity today. I'd thought if we had a really good row they could be third or fourth."

Seymour had a good vibe at the start line.

"I was quietly confident. I felt really excited at the start line, I think we all did," he said.

Women's coach Ian Wright liked what he saw from his crew, which is made up of four 18-year-olds - including cox Francie Turner - one each aged 20, 21 and 22, plus older heads Paula Twining (28) and Louise Trappitt (25).

It was their first race together. They clocked 6:11.81, 10s behind the Canadians, and are very much alive as a finals contender.

"It's going to be really hard but it gives them a bit of confidence to make the final."