Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

America's Cup: A prisoner of NZ's speed

Barker notes American rivals looking rattled as Spithill talks of changes to the boat and possibly even crew

It was an unexpectedly early concession delivered in an unexpectedly frank manner.

Explaining why his team opted to play their "postponement card" after being hammered by Team New Zealand in yesterday's fifth race of the 34th America's Cup match, Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill was remarkably upfront and candid.

He admitted Emirates Team NZ have a clear edge over his team - they're more powerful upwind, have better acceleration and their tacking is much slicker. With yesterday's third day of racing considered pivotal in the regatta, if Oracle didn't play their card their Cup defence would be as good as over.

Spithill's team trail the match 4-0, and still need to win one more race before they can even start scoring points after being docked two races by the international jury for the AC45 cheating saga. The maths is beginning to look pretty daunting for Oracle - they need to win 10 races, Team NZ just five. But it was still a big call for the Oracle crew. With just one postponement card to play, the team are left exposed should they suffer gear breakage later in the regatta.

"It was obvious we needed to regroup and have a good look at the video and what's going on out there," Spithill said.

"You've got to be smart about it. If all things were great we wouldn't have played it, but we have to be honest with ourselves. One thing this team is good at is we're very candid with each other and we're very direct. And it was obvious unless we make some changes there's a good chance we weren't going to win the second race of the day."

After a nervous stumble in race four on Monday, Team NZ's massive upwind advantage was further underlined yesterday, as Dean Barker and his crew turned an eight-second deficit at the bottom mark into a lead of more than one minute at the top.

They were aided by a howler of a tactical blunder by Oracle at the bottom mark, when a disastrous foil-tack rounding allowed the Kiwi boat to power in behind and instantly negate the advantage Spithill worked so hard for at the start.

Team NZ tactician Ray Davies said with the boat able to sail higher and faster into the wind than Oracle, it gives the crew a lot of confidence that if they find themselves behind, there will be passing opportunities upwind.

"The boat is going really, really well. It's seriously quick upwind so it makes my life a lot easier," he said.

Spithill said his team would be going through a painstaking review process overnight, examining all the footage and data from the first five races, before getting back out on the water for a solid day's training in today's rest day.

But there appears to be very little they could do to their boat in the space of 36 hours to negate their rivals' speed advantage.

Team NZ skipper Dean Barker said once they start tinkering with foils and rudders, there will be trade-offs that have to be made.

"The good thing is they're obviously a little bit rattled now and they've got to make some big decisions because they'll probably try to shut down the advantage that we have upwind, but there's obviously other things that go with that," said Barker.

Spithill, however, said there was plenty his team could do to improve their performance.

"It's all on the table, there's enough time to make appendage changes, sail changes, changes to the crew - we will go back and really look at everything."

It is Spithill's last comment that is the most intriguing, hinting there may be changes to the crew before Friday's next two races. The Oracle skipper did little to quell speculation that tactician John Kostecki may be replaced on the boat, saying he couldn't guarantee there wouldn't be changes to the afterguard.

Asked if he feels secure about his own position on the boat Spithill replied: "You can be a rooster one day, a feather duster the next."


Postponement card

Each team have one opportunity to enforce a postponement during the America's Cup match. There is no stipulation that it can be only for breakages or gear damage; it can be used as a strategic option if desired.

- NZ Herald

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