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Thursday, 6 February, 2003, 15:40 GMT
Pressure mounts for Team NZ
Team New Zealand
Team New Zealand are aiming for a third straight win

GBR Challenge skipper Ian Walker believes the fervent home support could prove Team New Zealand's undoing when they take on Switzerland's Alinghi in the America's Cup.

The defending champions last raced in 2000 when they completed a 5-0 whitewash of Italy's Prada to retain the Cup in Auckland.

If it's close I'd go with Alinghi because they have got guys at the back who know how to win

Ian Walker
GBR Challenge skipper

But victorious skipper Russell Coutts defected to Alinghi, who charged through the challenger series to set up a head-to-head with his former deputy Dean Barker, which starts on 15 February.

And Walker told BBC Sport that Barker's young crew could be affected by a lack of recent competitive experience when racing gets under way in the Hauraki Gulf.

"Dean Barker and his crew are no rookies - they have been training for three years and their starting and crew work should be exemplary," Walker told BBC Sport Online.

"But they've not been in the heat of battle and pressure does funny things to people.

"If it's close I'd go with Alinghi because they have got guys at the back who know how to win, and have experience of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

"Arguably they've got less pressure on them.

"TNZ are quite a young team and if the first start, first shift or first race goes against them, the pressure will build up quite rapidly."

Have your say
Chris Gibson, UK
Alinghi can pull it off with large diversity in their team

Walker, still in Auckland planning for GBR Challenge's next America's Cup campaign, said the clamour for a third straight win was mounting in the sailing-fanatical city.

But the British yachtsman admitted that Team New Zealand's training could ultimately prove more valuable than Alinghi's better race experience.

"Alinghi have raced day-in, day-out but TNZ's in-house races are probably three times as valuable," said Walker.

"Alinghi have been substantially better than the other boats in the Louis Vuitton Cup and many races were just a sail around, which is almost a wasted day for them.

"Meanwhile, Team New Zealand may have done four practice starts and raced at close-quarters against their training boat.

"So TNZ should be race sharp, and clued up on tactics, crew work and strategy, but the big difference is pressure.

Skipper Russell Coutts (centre) and the Alinghi afterguard
Coutts and co. are battle hardened

"It's different when your are coming into the start line, you're live on television and there are 1,000 boats watching you.

"Things go on in your mind and if you don't control that you're trouble."

However, Walker says that the decisive factor in the best-of-nine-race regatta is likely to be the speed of Team New Zealand's controversial boat.

"There's no gauge as to how fast TNZ are," said Walker.

"But I suspect they know how it will go, and I suspect Alinghi have no idea.

"Everything from the outside points to Team New Zealand being pretty comfortable.

"They have got the hull appendage which circumvents the rules to such an extent that they should have a much faster boat.

"The fact they've got it on both boats suggests they're pretty confident it's a step forward.

"And if so, then it's hard to see how Alinghi will counter that."


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