Luna Rossa sailor Nicholas Brezzi says the pre-race visit of Richie McCaw on Friday gave the Italian team "strength".
The All Blacks legend was on the wharf when the Italian team left the dock, before the first afternoon of racing in the Prada Cup semifinal.
The two-time Rugby World Cup winner wished the team well, and briefly spoke with Jimmy Spithill and the other leaders of Luna Rossa before they departed.
It was a particularly special moment for grinder Brezzi, who had a couple of seasons playing club rugby as a winger before his sailing career.
"I'm a big fan, I've played rugby for a long time," Brezzi told the Herald. "We were quite proud because a lot of the boys like rugby. It gave us confidence and it was nice.
"He spoke with Jimmy and the other leaders. I don't know what they told each other but it was big and nice to have him here. It really gives you strength. Like, man, he came here for us."
Helmsman Francesco Bruni agreed it was a boost for the squad, before they headed out for a pivotal day on Auckland harbour.
"There are a few guys who are passionate about rugby on our team and they were the most focused on his presence," said Bruni. "He's a legend, so he can only inspire good things."
After being under pressure following the round robin series, Friday was a significant day for the Italians, who enjoyed two comprehensive wins against the restored Patriot boat.
"We got to prove that we were a strong all-round team," said Brezzi. "It was not just about scoring points [on Friday], it was about proving that Luna Rossa is fast in strong winds, everyone was saying we are only fast in light winds.
"It was a big day. I would have signed for 1-1 because we know they are really fast in strong winds. We are pretty happy, but now we need to recalibrate and restart as if it was 0-0, because this is not over."
American Magic need to win at least one race today to stay alive, and four of the last five to advance to the Challenger final. It's a huge ask, but they remain confident.
"We need to control what we can control, trust the process, and go out to win this thing," said grinder Nick Dana. "The boat is fast – no doubt. So we just need to execute and we will win.
"[Friday] was our conditions but rebuilding the boat for nine days previously gets everyone in a state of feeling like they were on the back foot. We need to work out the kinks and get out and win some races.
"We feel as good as we ever have today. The boat is great, [it's] fast and it's up to the sailors to execute now and hopefully we can do it."
The first race on Saturday is scheduled for 3:15pm, following by a second at 4:15pm. Winds of between 7-10 knots are predicted, though there are fears they will drop as the afternoon goes on.
Heading into the Cup racing?
• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.
• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It's the best way to ride.
• Don't forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America's Cup Village.
• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.