Taupatupatu

It’s a rivalry that defines, divides and decides eras. New Zealand versus Australia. The two antipodean close neighbours who love to hate each other at play with the most intense rivalry anywhere in world sport. That rivalry or as the Maori language translates as ‘taupatupatu’ is about to be re-ignited in the Cup but there are many other thrilling examples written in the annals of sporting history to uncover – too many to mention.

Just about the finest game of rugby I ever witnessed, apart from the obvious one as an England fan, was back in 2000 at the Stadium Australia in Sydney before a scintillating record crowd of 109,874. It was then, and still is now, hailed as one of the greatest matches of all time. The All Blacks came out firing. The opening six minutes saw three converted tries as the likes of Lomu, Marshall, Mehrtens, Cullen, Umaga and Ieremia – the dream team – went to work on a stunned Australia who barely touched the ball. It’s the best opening passage of play ever seen in world rugby but the drama that unfolded thereafter remains legendary. Australia somehow clawed their way back to 35-34 before Jonah Lomu crashed over in the last minute of the game to secure the All Black win. Breathtaking.

©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

Now, sitting across Wynyard Wharf is another Aussie desperate to score a win on the Kiwis, this time for his Italian paymasters, poised to prise the America’s Cup from the clutches of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and stun the world in the process. Jimmy Spithill is the stuff of nightmares for opposing teams.

Competitiveness personified, he’s almost a forest tree reaching tall for sunlight in the canopy above. Like a cross between Jake La Motta and Wayne Shelford with the intensity of Michael Jordan he’s the king of the jungle in Cup circles with more pointed one-liners than Ali in his prime. If this were a psyche battle, Spithill wins…every time. He’s pure and simply: box-office. A promoter’s dream. But unlike in the Conner / Blackaller era where it truly was personal, this is pantomime and Jimmy is shadow boxing.

More’s the pity, for the modern-day sailors all know that the Cup is just a circus and that in a month’s time they will be back on the circuit, cameras and media gone, forcing everyone to swim along together. That’s professional sailing. Cups come and Cups go. A lot of fun whilst it lasts.

©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

With the distance between events and the uncertainty around gainful employment at the behest of flighty billionaires rather than real sponsors that derive tangible benefit from their largesse, the chances of a proper circuit emerging with consistency are, at present, slim to none. The Cup is almost an aberration on the sailing landscape, an at times vulgar expression of wealth every four years that sees unimaginable fortunes squandered for little or no return.

It really has to change. It has to professionalise beyond where it is today. Grabbing the outstanding formula, exposed so thrillingly in the AC75 class, by the collar and selling it to the world is paramount. But we’ve all been saying this for decades and it’s one of those things far easier said than done. Historical idiosyncracies wrapped in the Deed of Gift would have to be discarded and therein lies the rub. But if it’s going to happen, then now is the best chance. These first generation platforms are extraordinary – all the elements are there. But will it? Tough to see. The world has changed.

But back to the rivalry. Facing down Spithill from the other side of the harbour but almost from another era is one of the shrewdest characters in the sport. Pete Burling lets his medals and his sailing brilliance do the talking in a straight-up fashion that appeals to young and old alike. The housewives favourite and the idol of the youngsters from Tutukaka to Howick, from Ngaroto to Taupo and Titahi. He’s bigger than Russell Coutts in his prime and that’s saying something. In Bermuda the Aussie tried to rile him and get under his skin but day after day, the Kiwi was nonchalantly relentless. The scoreboard just ticked over and the resultant 8-1 scoreline explained a thrashing. The shadow boxer punched himself out.

Burling is sublime on the podium and quick to face down controversy. When Ben Ainslie had a pop about the Foil Cant System, Burling just retorted with; “there’s a feeling that we’re somehow withholding information, but if you need to know anything just sing out.” And although the story was a bit different a few minutes later when the team management got involved, Burling had defused the upset and out of his depth Brit before going on to lap him later in the most embarrassing race of the Christmas regatta. That’s classic Burling and as nemeses go, he’s Rhamnousia enacting retribution against those who succumb to hubris before the Gods in Ancient Greece.

©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

But what impresses me so much about this Team New Zealand campaign is that despite doing it on a relative shoestring, all round they’ve still managed to come out with both a design that is innovation personified and a team utterly committed to the task. They wear the silver fern with pride. To the Maori, the elegant shape of the fronds stand for strength, stubborn resistance, and enduring power. Team New Zealand seem to capture that in every campaign win or lose, and under the Burling reign it’s a relentless winning formula.

With rumours of top speeds hitting an incredible 62 knots on Te Rehutai, there aren’t enough words in Spithill’s lexicon to unsettle the Kiwis but this is sport – and strange things happen in sport. On paper it’s a 7-0 whitewash to the Kiwis, a horizon job, and the Cup either trips off to foreign lands for the mega-dollars or stays in Auckland for another thoroughly entertaining hurrah hopefully in 2023. But I know people who understand both the nature of sport and the human psyche who think this is going the way of the Italians and to hell with the data and the informed commentary. And who’s to say they’re wrong?

Let’s not forget Buster Douglas beat Mike Tyson and no-one, but no-one gave him a chance in hell. Leicester City won the Premier League. Boris Becker won Wimbledon at 17. Greece won the Euros. The USA beat the Soviet Union at Ice Hockey in 1980. And the helmsman of Luna Rossa beat Team New Zealand from match point 8-1 down to win 9-8 in San Francisco Bay.

Miracles do happen. Upsets occur. And in this strangest of years for so many reasons, is 2021 about to serve up another curveball?

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6 thoughts on “Taupatupatu

  1. I notice that in these days of Big Tech editing of reality, everyone seems to accept that the 8:1 “comeback” with Oracle USA against New Zealand in the 2013 Americas Cup in San Francisco was solely Spithill’s work. In consequence, goes the current revisionist narrative, Ben Ainslie played a role but that has somehow been overworked or over played or over claimed. Well, I went back to the videos of those 2013 races which make interesting viewing. They reinforce my belief then and now that there was no Spithill comeback without Ainslie as General. Not tactician. Not wizard or magician. Ainslie the General on the Sea. Let’s not forget it was 8:1 down without Ainslie as “General” up to then. The revolution in performance did not happen in terms of wins immediately. It took a couple of races to get the boat and crew reinvigorated. It was from the videos, not just Ainslie “getting his head out the cockpit” as some have portrayed it, to make clearer observations from the centre of the boat. First, there wasn’t any cockpit as such and secondly, the observations from Ainslie were not just what was seen but what was to be done. By Race 12, the wins started coming. Listen to the voice of Ainslie and his “observations” on the videos of that race. Clearly the way the race could be run and won was being communicated. And Spithill “copied that” and executed it as the top notch helmsman he is. By Race 18, it is pretty much apparent from the full video, that from start to end, it is Ainslie composing, conducting and directing, and yet another clear win flowed from that. There were, with Ainslie, much better comms, much better team work on board, much better attitude, determination and focus. All of the skills set Spithill now possesses and brings to Luna Rossa. Of course there were boat improvements that happened with it and those were essential. But when Spithill said as he did at the Pathetic Prada Post Final Press Conference (anyone notice they edited out the first 8 minutes?) he had learned and grown and improved as competitor and as team mate with Ben Ainslie, this experience in 2013 with Oracle and the comeback is what I am sure he is alluding too. Of all his improvements as skipper and man, the greatest surely is the humility which he brings to his talents on water, as evidence by acknowledging publicly just who his greatest influences were. I would venture that he so humble, he has yet to make public that the turnaround of a crazy chaotic and resistant Luna Rossa crew has to have been one his greatest achievements to date.

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  2. Mate, I can understand your frustration, 7-1 it’s hard to swallow, but what’s the point to be so offensive and pathetic? Do you really believe that the LR team performance it’s just Spithill’s ? FYI Jimmy Spithill was involved since the very beginning some 3 years ago (and btw contractually speaking not even strictly/only as a helmsman) so either he waited too long before acting as the uncontested leader (to use your words General would be more appropriate LOL) or maybe what you defined “crazy, chaotic, and resistant LR crew” turned to be an harmonious team thanks to the hard training and the corrective measures that have been constantly brought from shore (Max Sirena, Vasco Vascotto ring any bell?). The 2 helmsmen option, that btw it’s a brilliant idea, was decided by the Italians before the boat was even designed; it obviously required a certain amount of time to work fine as it’s doing now, main issue were the communications between Bruni and Spithill that improved dramatically following the strong inputs (read swearing) of Max Sirena that btw is the real undisputed leader of LR team.
    Ineos was humiliated primarily because LR was by far superior, period.

    But don’t worry and relax! ETNZ will win eventually because their boat is even faster than LR. So prepare yourself to celebrate against the despised Italians I’m sure you’ll feel the victory a little bit yours too..wasn’t NZ part of the empire after all?

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  3. decu (I cannot click to reply) There’s emotion. Then there’s logic. So if LR were always as you say – on this far superior plane to other mere mortals, how come they lost x 2 v ETNZ and x4 vs Ineos.? How can a slower more useless boat and crew win, even last weekend in the lightest of airs? I think Jimmy, being Jimmy, told them what for after 23 January when the far inferior (humiliated!) boat Ineos managed to beat them – and beat them in all conditions. I can imagine the riot act being read to the management – get rid of this 2 helm/skipper nonsense, put Jimmy in charge, he will win you the race and forget this “Italian crew” excuse of two equal helms/skippers. I don’t know if you caught Jimmy speaking to Stuff and LiveSailDie and others after the Press Conferences but as he explained himself, the 3 years meant little if nothing as these bunch of sailors and hangers on had not been together for that long. Bruni was plainly out of his depth by comparison and had no role apart from his own until told how things would change after 23 January. Poor decision making and lack of control is a feature and a fault of “two helms” when they are both told they are “equal”. From being a hinderance with his incessant opinions and chatter, Bruni to his credit since 23 January has overcome his ego for the sake of the Team and followed Jimmy’s lead. How odd it is that only the Italians obsess about Empire, the “Sir”, and their “superiority”? – the result perhaps of a Post War Inferiority complex? I don’t know but you are certainly not alone! What is a tragedy for the future of Italy’s chances of being fully involved in a future modernised America’s Cup is that due to their self centred approach Prada have crapped on the massive sense of goodwill that the Americas Cup had engendered after American Magic crashed out so spectacularly. Another odd thing is that a repeated justification for their shenanigans to bend and manipulate the Rules to set up a more certain win in light airs was that “Well, the other teams would do the same in our shoes”. There is no basis for that. I don’t think they would actually. Really big money won’t invest in a system that allows and promotes such a self centred approach to the detriment of objective aims.

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    1. Magnus sorry for my language, you write admirably and I really appreciate what you are doing.

      Peter, all bullshit. it is not a question of being humiliated, it is such a newly designed class of boat that it was a miracle to see all four flying, under control and so close in performance, no one would have bet on it. all the teams alternated between good and bad performances, needless to mention that the world series AM seemed to fly literally and that they were the only rival for the Kiwis, instead Rita could not stay on the foils winning 0 of 6 !, LR were already given for doomed, then we all know recent history. but let me tell you that the 7-1 is not completely truthful, because the boats were really close consider that in race 2 it was 14-15 knots (not exactly light wind) and LR won the same. this result is due to my parry from the fact that LR clearly won 4 of the 8 starts and lost only 2 aided by the fact that the two helmsmen did not have to change sides at every jibe or tack, losing that moment to make the winning move. won a concept of boat and boat management, never seen before.
      I don’t deny that I’ve always been critical of having two helmsmen, but obviously I was wrong. I hadn’t even seen boats like this …

      I bet that in the next edition, if they keep the boats, we will see more crews adopting the double helmsman.

      Bruni is certainly not at the level of Spithill in match racing, but don’t underestimate him, apart from appearances he is a professional of the highest level, focused and resilient.

      the rest are all bla bla bla, the america’s cup has always been so cynical and if you don’t close the games when your opponent is on the ropes you can be sure that you will pay dearly, they simply enforced the rules that everyone has signed up to.

      finally, our post-war inferiority complex was such that to get out of it we only had to be (and still are) the producers and creators of many world-class excellences of which perhaps you also have some posters at home or dreams in the drawer.

      ciao

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  4. Luna Rossa will try to start better and cover every single meter until death. Is it easy to do? No
    Will that be enough? Probably not. 7 to 0 for NZ.
    But on the first day, with light wind and a surprise result, everything psychologically could change…
    The human mind is able to fly (..and can also fly boats)

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  5. Hey, Magnus I really enjoy your wit and eloquence. And especially thanks for that beautiful word Sprezzatura. Absolutely mouth-watering. Just one thing tho. Isn’t the AC75 really a modellers pond, remote-controlled yacht and really quite boring? My old 1954 Morris Minor went faster. Just sayin’.

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