Have Team New Zealand got Oracle running scared?

Have Team New Zealand got Oracle running scared a week out from the start of the America's Cup?

In a week where the Kiwis have suffered rudder and hull damage to limit their time on Bermuda's Great Sound, it's hard to get a read on them in the pecking order of the six teams other than to say there were extremely impressive in beating Ben Ainslie Racing and Team France before the frustrated Brits rammed them.

Perhaps the biggest badge of honour Team New Zealand can take out of the last few days is the refusal of Oracle or their surrogate syndicate Team Japan to engage in racing with the Kiwis.

It's not like Oracle skipper Jimmy "Pitbull" Spithill to back out of a dog fight. And Team Japan's boss Dean Barker has a point or two to prove against his old syndicate.

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Is that an admission by the two teams that share so much information that they are concerned about performance and being shown up on the eve of their own big dance?

Or is it purely a political gesture, another sign of the frosty relations between the Kiwis and the cup holders?

In the murky waters of the America's Cup it's probably a little bit of both.

While Oracle have great straight line speed - even the slick Kiwis concede that -  they are not matching Team New Zealand in the key area of manoeuvres.

In their limited time in Bermuda Team New Zealand have shown the ability to ride high and stable in all wind conditions and are pulling off foiling gybes and tacks with ease.

Oracle appear to have pressure issues in terms of powering their hydraulics which looks a root cause of their two capsizes.

Team New Zealand already have Oracle in a panic with the defenders rushing an improvised cycling station into their boat in a copy-cat move on the innovative Kiwis.

That must have hurt in itself after Spithill brushed off the cycling concept after the Kiwis launched their radical approach in February.

A bit of dented pride is nothing unusual in this game but it would be damaging for Oracle to be smashed by their arch enemies right now.

And with Team Japan having so much similar design and technology on their boat, they have fallen in line with their masters and given the Kiwis the cold shoulder.

This is good for the America's Cup. It's a sign of the old times when a bit of nastiness added intrigue and it brings back memories of when defenders and challengers wouldn't race each other until the actual America's Cup match.

We won't have to wait long to see how Team, New Zealand does fare against these two key opponents. After opening their challengers series with a race against France on Saturday week, Team New Zealand have Oracle the next day and then Team Japan the following day.

There will be no hiding from realities then. NZ v USA is a grudge match with a four-year hangover from San Francisco.

But Team New Zealand will also remember there will be no hiding from Oracle long term. The defenders race in the round-robin challengers series for the first time – a blatant tweak of the rules to allow Oracle an unprecedented opportunity to gauge first-hand their rivals speed.

While the challengers then  go into their playoffs to find their contender for the America's Cup, Oracle head off for a two week break to work out what they need to do to make their boat quicker for the actual fight for the Auld Mug.

Team New Zealand need no reminding of how good Oracle are when their backs are against the wall.

The shadow boxing over the past few days has been fascinating. This really is shaping as a heavyweight contest.


 - Stuff