We can expect to hear a load of commentators and sailors saying “it’s not over until it’s over” and “we’ll just keep on fighting” or “we’re taking every day as it comes” or words to that effect in the next few weeks. Believe me, it’s nonsense. That’s like the Alfa Romeo team in Formula 1 saying they will be challenging Mercedes. Claptrap. The die is set way before we get to the racing. This is the end of the cycle, not the beginning. In just a few short months time, we will have a winner and that winner will be Team New Zealand. No question. Easiest victory since Russ aced the Hula. And bear in mind, we haven’t even seen the best of Team New Zealand yet. They are winning by 30 seconds to over a minute at cruise pace. They are higher and faster upwind, and lower and faster downwind. You can’t get close to these guys and the ‘TEAM’ is rock solid. It’s what has impressed me most, they look like a team, they act like a team, they win like a team. They are a machine. An awesome killing machine.
Are they beatable? Well yes but you’ve got to be on your ‘A’ game and we are all reminded of San Francisco when the Kiwis had Oracle on the rack but then stupidly gave them a lay day. Ben came onboard, Fresh found out how to foil upwind and one of the greatest comebacks ever in sport, happened. I still don’t know the full story of that victory. There’s a code of Omerta around it but Larry won and it’s in the history books now.
For sure, that lay day was a mistake by Grant Dalton and a huge, painful lesson that has been well-learned. The defeat hurt so much. They won’t be making the same mistake again. The fact that they came back from that loss is huge testament to the Kiwi team spirit. It’s a trait they show in all the sports they selectively compete in and in the America’s Cup, just like in rugby, they are very very good at the game. Team NZ is a credit to their flag and come 2021, they will be very deserving of all the plaudits they receive – most likely (and unfortunately) at a safe social distance when really there should be the mother of all parties in Auckland.
For the challengers, we have the rather boring torture of the next couple of months – (anyone else already getting bored by the racing?). It’s the hope that kills. There will be a winner from the challenger pack – my money’s on Spithill through gritted teeth – but whoever aces the series is in fool’s gold territory if they think they are going to wrest the Cup this time from the Kiwis.
Spithill is mercurial and I can’t for the life of me understand why Team Ineos didn’t hire him as support for Ben. He’s the kind of guy that hauls boats round racecourses through sheer will and determination. Sailors want to sail for him. Owners realise that what you see is what you get and he’s damned competitive. Ben and Jimmy had something going in San Francisco and with a money-no-object campaign, he could have been an easy signing and would have taken the considerable pressure off Ben’s shoulders. With Prada, Jimmy is in in full ass-hauling mode and there’s an edge to the Italians that we haven’t seen for a while. Pre-start they look on the money – and that’s Jimmy. Upwind they look like they can hang on. Downwind they are Christmas turkeys, ripe for roasting on a Kiwi barbie. Team New Zealand will gobble them up.
The Americans meanwhile are a pound short and a penny late. By far the most accessible and almost certainly the nicest team in this cycle, they will show flashes of brilliance as Terry Hutchinson is no mug but I have always wondered whether Dean Barker can really hack it under pressure. I used to unfairly call him ‘Bottler Barker’ as for sure there’s a mental fragility right at the crucial moment and unfortunately the team know that. They can smell it on the water and that’s the problem right there. Belief – it’s so hard to win and is lost in a nano-second only to permeate down through an organisation at rapier-like pace.
Team Ineos is in the cut-the-boat up stage of crisis. They have the resources to gamble big but it’s desperation now. They know they are on the back-foot and despite having a guy who is at his very very best when the chips are down, I come back to the notion that this is the end of the cycle, not the beginning and time is short. Finding speed is going to be very hard. Finding consistent speed, wrapped up in an overall team package that can challenge the Kiwis is nigh on impossible. I’m not saying it can’t be done but the warning signs are there and I just fear we are about to see a horrible death spiral unfold in front of our eyes and I will spend the next two years hearing the inside story from mates on the team going: “it was a bloody joke, we never had a chance.”
The white ensign is flying over Team Ineos. The white flag is being raised by the challengers. They didn’t even go on the water today for their summary beating by the Kiwis. Team New Zealand will defend the Cup. Put your house on it.
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