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Rookie in line to seal Kiwi Cup triumph


02.03.2000 - By SUZANNE McFADDEN

Team New Zealand may use a new skipper today as they seek a 5-0 triumph over a Prada crew beaten on the water and browbeaten by their tycoon boss.

Record-equalling skipper Russell Coutts is likely to hand the helm of the black boat over to rookie Dean Barker on a day when rain and strong winds are predicted for the Hauraki Gulf.

It is a luxury of which Prada's boss, Patrizio Bertelli, could only dream.

Last night his multibillion-lira challenge was all but over ... and so was his patience.

In a raw, stinging attack on his own crew - in particular, mercurial but erratic tactician Torben Grael - Bertelli said yesterday's fourth straight loss to the Kiwis amounted to suicide.

"In a day when wind conditions were in favour of Luna Rossa - which proved to have the same speed as NZL60, if not faster - suicidal tactics gave the race away to Team New Zealand on Russell Coutts' 38th birthday," he said.

That single-sentence statement to the world's yachting media left some of the Prada family members in tears.

A grim-faced Grael said last night that Bertelli "had the right" to be angry about Prada's costly mistake yesterday.

The Italians fought their way into the lead on the first leg, but chose not to protect the favoured right side when they thought the wind was moving to the left.

By giving Team New Zealand the right side, Prada dropped off the pace and eventually lost by 1m 49s.

"He thought we made a birthday present to Russell," Grael said.

"We did, but it wasn't intended.

"We are the first ones to feel bad about it. Patrizio has all the right to be upset as well.

"But we didn't see it as suicide. We thought we were doing the right thing."

Prada skipper Francesco de Angelis tried to take something positive out of his boss' scathing message, going into what could be the last race today.

"Maybe this will make the team more angry, more aggressive," he said.

"But everyone has the desire - that won't change much."

Coutts last night had some sympathy for the Italians, who are newcomers to the cut-throat world of Cup matchracing.

The black boat skipper said he had made the same tactical error a few times in his career.

Team New Zealand's win yesterday equalled the record of nine straight Cup race victories, set almost 100 years ago by American Charlie Barr.

But Coutts is not driven to break the record today. He is looking to introduce Barker, his 26-year-old protege, to the Cup - but only if Barker wants to.

"I'll ask him some time before the race - it's his choice too," Coutts said. "I can think of easier situations for him to go into."

Coutts knows what it is like - he was called to the wheel of NZL20 in the dying stages of the Kiwi campaign in the 1992 Cup.

"I have experienced it, and it's not easy when you're going into the America's Cup cold," he said.

"But I have tremendous respect for his ability."

Barker has been credited with helping to sharpen Coutts' matchracing skills, particularly in the start-box, over the past two years.

Barker, a former world youth champion, has not been involved in a Cup campaign before, but rocketed into the list of the world's top five matchracing skippers last year.

Team New Zealand may make a few more changes to the crew line-up today.

Prada may see it as arrogant, but the New Zealanders say it is just confidence in their 32-strong crew.


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