Matthew Sheahan assesses the chances of the two teams on the eve of the Louis Vuitton finals 31/5/07

 The Kiwi skipper hates them and believes that he is unlucky. His opponent, James Spithill, has yet to express an opinion.

When it comes to flipping a coin, Spithill’s Luna Rossa team shows no signs of anxiety. Why should they? Surely tossing a coin is simply a means of establishing who takes the right hand side on the first race entry into the box?

Assuming the finals isn’t a 5:0 contest, each will have plenty of opportunity to enter from the favoured side, where entering from the right means entering on starboard. If the score is looking like going to 5:0, such dominance on the part of one team negates the small advantage of entering from the right anyway.

All that would be fine if it were not for the fact that the match between Luna Ross and Emirates Team New Zealand looks like being the closest battle we’ve seen for a long while, perhaps the whole Cup.

Since the beginning of the Louis Vuitton Cup, Luna Rossa Challenge has won 21 out of 26 races, Emirates Team New Zealand won 22 out of 27.

More recently in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, the teams have split four matches and traded wins in the opening Round Robins of the Louis Vuitton Cup this spring.

Look a little more closely and both teams have a perfect record when it comes to entering the start box from the right, two apiece, a performance that continued into the semi finals, even though they were each racing other teams. Luna Rossa scored 2-0 against Dickson’s BMW Oracle and Emirates Team New Zealand clocked up 3-1 against Desafío Español.

Perhaps the coin toss is more important after all, getting the right hand side certainly appears to be.

But there is also the issue of expectations. With two such closely matched teams, their different styles could turn out to be the deciding factor. The flamboyant, opportunistic Italians have shown that they are happy to gamble, split with their opponents and sail a higher risk race. There’s little doubt that as their semi finals developed, early wins helped to built their confidence and with it the strength of their performance. Indeed, perhaps the first win was the crucial one, boosting their confidence by proving that they could beat BMW Oracle even when their ample early lead had been eroded to a few seconds half way through.

The second match was a loss, but only just, the American’s were lucky and the Italians knew it. On the third day their moral victory became a real one and Luna Rossa found itself 2:1 up. From then on life got easier as they built in confidence.

Aside from the threat of Spithill in the pre-start, this will be the biggest issue for the Kiwis. If the Italians get 2:0 up, they will be very difficult indeed to beat. If, on the other hand, they lose the first two matches, this team has in the past shown its ability to lose it’s confidence quickly.

On this basis, winning the first race looks more crucial for the Italians.

Faced with 2:0 in their favour, the Kiwis will deal with life in their usual, modest, understated way. But their real strength is if they are 2:0 down. The Kiwis are a solid, resilient team that can dig deep when the going gets tough.

Neither of the skippers were at the skippers’ press conference on the eve of the Louis Vuitton finals. Instead, the two tacticians, Luna Rossa’s Andy Horton and Emirates Team New Zealand’s Terry Hutchinson were on stage.

How did they see the competitions shaping up?

“We’re going to take it one beat, one tack and one race at a time,” said Hutchinson. “The emphasis will be on the first cross. We’ve been practicing and rehearsing a number of moves that will help us get the first cross and into a controlling position early on. Luna Rossa was underestimated last time and we’re certainly not going to make that mistake.”

Given the importance of the pre-start, how does the Italian team deal with the decision making process in these crucial few minutes?

“As an afterguard and a weather team you explain how much you want one side or the other,” explained Horton. “Then it gets handed over to the navigator and skipper. If we get what we want, our team tends to go with it pretty strong, which is what you’ve seen. If we don’t, we might go into damage control.”

With so much hanging on the first race, such an expression could well become a familiar one from the start. With so little to chose between the teams, observers are being forced to read body language as well in an attempt to assess the likely fortunes. Today, Hutchinson looked tense, Horton relaxed. With so much at stake it looks great to be relaxed, but for my money, fired up and maybe even a little anxious seems to work best come the heat of battle.

So who won the toss?

Luna Rossa.

Just the result that could set the Italian team off on a winning streak.

Related/previous features:

America’s Cup Match Preview? 
America’s Cup Shopping Spree Starts 
America’s Cup Double Whammy 
Dickson Off America’s Cup Boat 
America’s Cup Confidence Trick 
Wheels Coming Off America’s Cup Dream? 


Emirates Team New Zealand v Luna Rossa


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