Aussie challenge makes life tougher for Team NZ

DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 11:45 01/10/2013

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OPINION: Life just got a bit tougher for Team New Zealand with an Australian yacht club confirmed as official Challenger of Record for the next America's Cup.

Suddenly there's a rival in their own backyard. And it's a rival that needs to be taken seriously.

In fact, if there really are any second thoughts about Team New Zealand's future, then the emergence of an Australian syndicate, especially one gifted the influential role amongst the challengers, should be the impetus needed to continue Kiwi survival in this toughest of games.

Billionaire Australian winemaker and sailing devotee Bob Oatley and his Hamilton Island Yacht Club were formally unveiled for the key role today.

The deal was done with Oracle boss Larry Ellison the moment his boat defeated Team New Zealand last week to retain the cup.

The lack of a serious Australian challenge since 1995 has left the door open for Team New Zealand to dominate the Down Under involvement in yachting's greatest spectacle.

Bob Fisher's Young Australian challenge in Auckland in 2000 was never a real threat. It was what its name implied - a nursery for up and coming Aussie sailors.

With no serious challenge following Fisher's good work, that talent pool was snapped up by rival syndicates over the years, highlighted by his 2000 skipper Jimmy Spithill spearheading the Oracle success.

Australia, which broke the New York Yacht Club's vice-like grip on the Auld Mug in 1983 only to lose it to "Captain America" Dennis Conner four years later, have some fabulous sailors in this arena.

Among them are four sailors who were on the Oracle boat and two on Team New Zealand in the form of the influential Glenn Ashby and veteran Adam Beashel.

A genuine Aussie challenge will surely funnel their best yachties into the one syndicate.

However, that probably won't include Spithill, who appears to be entrenched in the lavish Oracle system.

As a nation and a syndicate Australia will be in a game of catch-up but with so many of their best maritime minds already involved in this game, it will be more about consolidating their best.

Oatley, with his frequent success in the Sydney to Hobart race and having won the Admirals' Cup, will demand high standards.

If he has the aptitude to release enough of his fortune, then he should be able to assemble a more than competitive outfit.

And the Aussies will have an instant outline of what is involved in a regatta that is expected to be refined considerably from the over-the-top 34th edition that failed to attract enough serious challengers.

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Australia, as Challenger of Record, will help shape the rules that define the next edition.

That's a huge responsibility given the excesses that spoiled San Francisco from fulfilling its potential beyond the engrossing final between Oracle and Team New Zealand.

Some form of common sense needs to be found to rein in the budgets without diminishing the appeal of a regatta that captured such huge interest.

It's not just Australia's surprising re-emergence that will bring added competitiveness for Team New Zealand.

Sweden's Artemis Racing are determined to put their tragic campaign behind them and be a serious force in the next Cup. Britain look likely to finally sail again under the leadership of Sir Ben Ainslie.

Luna Rossa, if they like the way the Americans and Aussies shape the future, will bring more Italian flavour.

Already it's looking like a tough equation just got tougher.

- Fairfax Media

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