ANALYSIS: The bravado emanating from the Luna Rossa camp comes with a huge question mark hanging over it.
The Italians are justifiably thrilled at reaching the Prada Cup final where they line out against INEOS Team UK in a best of 13 race series starting on February 13.
Luna Rossa secured their place in the challengers final with a 4-0 sweep of American Magic that eliminated the powerful New York Yacht Club syndicate.
From skipper Max Sirena, to cool-headed Francesco Bruni, and Australian import Jimmy Spithill, there has been no lack of brash talk about the big improvements Luna Rossa have made to their boat since they were sent into the elimination semifinal scenario after losing to the British in the last round-robin match a week earlier.
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There is justification to that, given the speed and performance of the slick black and red boat over two days against the Americans, as well as some much-needed improvement with crew systems and onboard communications.
But – and it’s a huge BUT – where was the opposition? Where was the pressure? Will the new-found gains in speed and confidence hold up against a British outfit who were certainly superior to the Italians in their most recent clash?
A wounded Patriot was never going to truly test the Italians, and they were left to sail their own race.
Luna Rossa’s biggest strength throughout their Auckland campaign has been their work in the starting box where Spithill’s aggression has ruled.
That continued against a timid Dean Barker in the semifinals and once clear off the line and the first tack made, Luna Rossa simply sailed away. They were never tested.
They have shown a brittleness under pressure and that will be something the equally aggressive Sir Ben Ainslie will look to exploit as he did so effectively in the round-robins.
When the boats were relatively even, the British turned up the heat and the Italians cracked, getting sloppy with some of their turns while their tactical calls also suffered.
Historically, the Italian challenges have faltered. Fiercely nationalistic, they have contested four challenger series since 2000, winning one and then going on to get trounced in the America’s Cup match.
A fiercely nationalistic syndicate, it was a big call to bring in Spithill. But he has given a hard edge that has been missing.
Always game on the water, it’s his gamesmanship off the water that continues to delight.
He was at his best after this latest win, declaring that going through the semifinal was the best thing that could have happened to the team to sharpen their performance. There’s logic to that.
But you know that if Luna Rossa had taken the direct route to the Prada Cup final, he would have been talking up the extra week’s development time with even more fervour.
That’s Spithill’s way. Accentuate his positives to put negatives on his opponent.
There is no doubt Luna Rossa are better than they were a week ago. Bruni feels the boat’s performance has improved 10 per cent. Crucially, the big speed gains came in the higher winds, with Sirena claiming: “We have recorded numbers never seen before.”
But those gains only bring them in line with the acknowledged zone of strength of the British.
And the tweaks to the Italian comms and tactical systems are also a tip of the hat to INEOS Team UK who have looked the slickest in these key areas.
It was noticeable against the Americans that Bruni was calmly taking the lead most of the time with a much quieter Spithill.
The increased involvement of Pietro Sibello to provide reads on pressure and wind shifts was necessary. But he does so while also having to control and trim the mainsail.
Across at INEOS Team UK, tactician Giles Scott has been freed up for a roving role where his eyes are his biggest asset.
While the Italians have talked up their improvements they will be aware of the gains coming on Britannia.
The British turnaround in three weeks after Christmas was astonishing, and they will be using this current three-week period just has effectively.
Put all the talk aside, this is going to be a fascinating final.