26 May 2017

Let the America's Cup rivalry begin

3:24 pm on 26 May 2017

First Person - It wouldn't be the America's Cup without psychological warfare, and the first shot has been fired at Team New Zealand.

Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton

Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton's description of his team as "lone wolves" has left him open to baiting by his rivals. Photo: Photosport

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill, who staged a comeback win over the New Zealanders in San Francisco in 2013, used the first piece of cup theatre - the Skippers' Media Conference - to hint at division in the Team New Zealand camp.

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill at the 2017 America's Cup Skippers' Media Conference

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Spithill was asked to comment on the line used by Team New Zealand head Grant Dalton that his team arrived in Bermuda as the "lone wolves" in the game.

Dalton's line refers to his team keeping out of most deals and arrangements made by the other teams, and being the last to arrive in Bermuda.

"I think Grant Dalton has shown he's a lone wolf, it's rare for me to agree with him, but I'd have to agree with that," replied Spithill.

He then went a step further, throwing a metaphorical lump of meat outside the wolf's lair, to see whether he could lure it out.

"Obviously we wanted him involved [in the meetings], I've spoken to some of the Team New Zealand sailors, and they have a different opinion, but can't say anything."

Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling, who spent much of the conference with a bemused grin on his face, did not react, and afterwards when asked by RNZ about the comment, acknowledged it as a shot, but wouldn't bite.

Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling

Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling: "We're just about doing the talking out on the water." Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

"We're just about doing the talking out on the water with our performance, and how quick our boat's going," he told RNZ.

"We have a really tight team back there and everyone's on the same page about winning this thing."

Dalton, who has said he was keeping a lower profile this campaign, said he was not commenting, via the team's media manager.

There was an earlier presumably tongue-in-cheek poke at New Zealand media from Spithill.

A New Zealand journalist asked the first question in the media conference, and when RNZ made it two in a row, Spithill turned to irony.

"First of all it's good to see all you Kiwi media back in the press conference, I've gotta say I've missed you guys, and I'm certainly looking forward to the days ahead."

Maybe it was the question, as much as its origin.

This is the first America's Cup in which the defender can sail in the challenger series, gaining a possible bonus point that carries over into the cup final.

But it has raised questions about the potential for the defender to win or lose races, in order to manage the final order of challengers.

Spithill rejected that notion, and said they were racing for the bonus point.

There were few other revelations.

Spithill was coy on whether Oracle had shared all of its technology with its "partner" team, Dean Barker's Softbank Japan, or whether it would use a partial version of the New Zealander's pedal-powered hydraulic system.

The first day of racing - Saturday New Zealand time - was later postponed because of forecast strong winds.

Today's first piece of cup theatre has shown, though, that the rivalries and games that give the cup much of its character were alive and well, despite new rules aimed at muting criticism of the event itself.

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