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America’s Cup 2021: How All Blacks are helping Luna Rossa’s Jimmy Spithill in quest to defeat Team NZ

4 min read

Lessons from the inner sanctum of the All Blacks, as well as some military principles, are helping to inspire Jimmy Spithill in his America’s Cup quest against Team New Zealand.

The Luna Rossa co-helmsman tends to hog the headlines, both because of his refreshing candour and also his well-honed media skills, which can deliver sharp jabs towards the opposition.

But the Australian is often misunderstood.

There’s a lot of focus on him as an individual, but he’s actually the quintessential team player, aware he is only one cog (albeit an important one) in the massive Italian operation.

“I’ve always tried to do everything I can to give the team the best shot of winning,” Spithill told the Herald. “That hasn’t changed, irrespective of what team I’m involved in. I’ll play any role, I’ll do any position that will give the team the best chance of winning races.”

That team ethos has developed over two decades of elite sailing, across many campaigns, including six America’s Cups. But it also came from his experience playing rugby, where he duelled with the likes of former Wallabies George Smith and Phil Waugh as a schoolboy.

“I used to be in the backrow, a breakaway,” says Spithill. “I played at high school, played a bit for Newport.

“I used to love it but with guys like Phil Waugh and George Smith you wouldn’t get much playing time when it came to the rep teams.

“When we were young kids growing up, they would be in the other sides and you could see early on those two were absolute weapons, they were so talented.”

Spithill was never going to wear the green and gold, but rugby enshrined some core values.

“I pretty much played through high school but then it became about the sailing and at that point I then had to start focusing,” explains Spithill. “I had to start dropping things out – and to be honest, rugby wasn’t going to be my path to the top – I didn’t have enough of the talent that a lot of my mates had.

“But I loved the culture of rugby. It definitely taught me a lot about team sport.”

His passion for rugby has also developed a fascination with the All Blacks, despite the Sydney-born Spithill being a Wallaby fanatic.

“One lesson I learnt from a young age, is always surround yourself with great people, better than you,” says Spithill. “I’ve been really bloody lucky in that regard, with the people that put themselves second, the people that don’t think about themselves but only about what is going to be best for the team, that sort of a culture.

“That is one of the key things for the All Blacks, who are one of the most successful teams in history. You just look at the culture and the pillars of what that team stands for, it’s pretty amazing. I’ve always been fascinated with that team because of that.”

In recent years Spithill has had a chance to learn more about the men who wear the silver fern, from those who have spent years inside the camp.

“I’ve spent a bit of time with Keven Mealamu – I’ve been fortunate to hang out with him, as well as Dan Carter,” said Spithill. “We met Richie [McCaw] the other week, he came down to see us.”

“Then in the past, I’ve spent some time with Steve Hansen and Gilbert Enoka. I’ve been a huge fan of the All Blacks, with that culture they have bred.”

Spithill has also been strongly influenced by the discipline, structure and camaraderie of the military.

“A big side of my family was the defence forces, due to my grandfather and some friends who have served,” said Spithill.

Spithill’s great grandfather William Horace Reardon was part of the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade in World War I.

“He was 19 years old and a country boy – he was naturally signed to the horse brigade,” says Spithill. “I was always learning and hearing a lot about him. And I’ve got a lot of mates currently serving, and veterans.

“I’ve always been interested in the military and specifically the special forces – had a big fascination with that.

“They’re all about the team and putting yourself second – actually pretty similar to the All Blacks. That’s what we have tried to adapt and in my experience that’s always been a pretty successful formula.”

Heading into the Cup racing?

• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.

• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It’s the best way to ride.

• Don’t forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America’s Cup Village.

• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.

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