Bertrand starts to fight back

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The Independent Online
SAILING

On a glowing day, two of the America's Cup's most remarkable street fighters slugged their way back into the reckoning. Team New Zealand, by 15 seconds, lost their unbeaten record to John Bertrand's oneAustralia in the Louis Vuitton Cup and Dennis Conner, by just one second, heaved himself into a share of the lead in the Citizen Cup alongside the man he beat, Kevin Mahaney.

Russell Coutts had never been beaten on the water in 36 starts, but he was comprehensively outplayed in the crucial pre-start manoeuvering by Rod Davis. He had lost all his electronic instruments, but that was not the reason. Then, every time he tried to come back and force a way through, the Australians beat him down. They seem able to mix it successfully in a tacking duel with the New Zealanders but have difficulty in a drag race. On Saturday they gave them no choice but to mix it.

Bertrand is still 3-1 behind in the best-of-nine and knows that while he may be able to stop New Zealand getting past, especially in Saturday's breezy conditions, he cannot allow them to get their noses in front or they will be away and gone.

It was the first race that Peter Blake, the team manager, had missed - he is still unbeaten - and Coutts mused on not only bringing him back but insisting on his wearing the red socks which are supposed to bring luck.

The cliffhanger engineered by Stars & Stripes was, said Paul Cayard, "one of the great races and one which gives us good memories when we look back." Cayard, who steered all day, produced every nerve-tingling move in the book - perfectly-timed slam-dunk tacks to sit right on top of Mahaney's Young America, and daring crosses ahead when Mahaney had the right of way.

There is an obvious heightened resolve in the Stars & Stripes crew which, on its day, can match the best in the world for strength, speed, experience and guile. Cayard is in dominant form at a time when both the opposing syndicates are feeling a little nervy.

The changes to Stars & Stripes have improved the downwind performance, and Young America is still evaluating its winged rudder. Robert Hopkins, the navigator, said: "There is no problem with the Americans not having good boats. We kept getting back in there by being in phase, but just could not sew it up."

Yesterday, more due to confused seas than strong breezes, all racing was cancelled.

AMERICA'S CUP (San Diego) Louis Vuitton Cup, Final (best of nine), Race 4: oneAustralia bt Team New Zealand, 15sec. Team New Zealand leads 3-1. Citizen Cup, Final, Race 5: Stars & Stripes bt Young America, 1sec. Standings: 1= Pact '95, Team Dennis Conner, 3pts; 3 America3, 2.

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