Coutts v Barker showdown

Will this be a prelude to the America's Cup itself?

Saturday July 6th 2002, Author: James Boyd, Location: Scandinavia
Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker and the man he replaced, Russell Coutts of the Swis Alinghi Team, today made it through to tomorrow's final of the Swedish Match Cup, the concluding event in the 2001-2 Swedish Match Tour.

By winning the quarter finals, Barker was able to choose his opponent for today's semis. He said he had considered choosing his Team New Zealand team mate Bertrand Pace, in order to ensure Team New Zealand made through to the finals, but in the end chose American Ed Baird and his team of ex-Volvo heavyweights.

This proved to have been a good decision and in the light 6 -8 knot winds today, Barker dispatched Baird and his Team Musto 3-0.

Coutts had a tougher time advancing to defend his event title. Bertrand Pace pushed him to five matches before Coutts, came out on top. Coutts won the first flight, only to see his wily French/Kiwi opponent first back, winning the second and third races.

In the fourth match Pace had a slight advantage at the start but Coutts sniffed out more pressure from the left side of the course. From there the two veteran match racers tracked around the course until the final beat when Pace split from Coutts to the left side hoping to get a boost from the stronger breeze. Coutts had too much boat speed for Pace to overcome however as the Alinghi Team skipper held off Pace, winning by 17 seconds.

In the fifth and deciding match Coutts pushed Pace over the line two seconds early forcing Pace to double back, providing Coutts with an advantage to start. Pace then hit the mark and copped a penalty while Coutts sailed a flawless match to advance to the finals and have an opportunity to defend his Swedish Match Cup crown.

"It was a good day, everything went our way," commented Barker. "We hope we can sail that well or better tomorrow because you know you're not going to have an easy race with Russell. He is the yardstick when it comes to match racing."

"We're disappointed we won't be having an all-Team New Zealand final," said Pace. "We had quite a battle two years ago and it would have been fun to go at it again."

Tomorrow's Barker-Coutts match-up features the last two winners of the Swedish Match Cup here in Marstrand. Barker defeated Pace in 2000 in a thrilling five match final that saw the Kiwi down 0-2, before rallying to win three in a row to claim the title. In 2001 Coutts defeated Luc Pillot now of Le Defi Areva, 3-1.

"We've only sailed three days but we've faced a bit of everything this week," said Barker. His tactician Hamish Pepper agreed. "It's tough in these conditions to be consistent in getting the boats up to speed and get them to go where you want"

Sunday's racing begins at 9:30am with sail-offs for places 5-8. The finals and petit-finals are scheduled to commence at 1pm.

Semi finals results:

Flight 1
Barker def. Baird
Coutts def. Pace

Flight 2
Barker def. Baird
Pace def. Coutts

Flight 3
Barker def. Baird
Pace def. Coutts

Flight 4
Coutts def. Pace

Flight 5
Coutts def. Pace

Dean Barker and co in yesterday's breezier conditions

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