Now the Kiwis need to avoid the kind of soul-crushing collapse that kept them from winning the oldest trophy in global sports four years ago.
They put that behind them to get on the board in Race Six, though, beating the Kiwi team by 11 seconds to raise hopes of a fightback.
The Kiwis moved to 6-1 in the first-to-seven match.
A day after pugnacious Australian skipper Jimmy Spithill steered the defenders Oracle to their first win of the series, helmsman Peter Burling and New Zealand reasserted their dominance.
That win means that the 35th America’s Cup will continue into Monday 26th June as neither team can reach the seven points needed to win the 35th America’s Cup in the two races scheduled on Sunday 25th June.
New Zealand, a small, sailing-mad island nation, will no doubt be holding its breath.
“We’ve been here before, we will fight all the way”, Spithill said staring down the barrel of defeat.
“These guys sailed better”. Potentially, in a situation like this you could see a team split apart, but when we got ashore everyone pulled together because we know this isn’t over.
“If we think the team’s got a better chance with me off the wheel, no problem”. “Now it’s up to us to respond and react”.
“It’s a tall mountain to climb, no question”, said Spithill, who confirmed the team would consider a significant crew change if they thought it would help.
With a 6-1 lead in the first-to-seven points series, the New Zealanders can claim the Cup on Monday and expunge the memory of their crushing defeat in 2013, when they led the United States of America 8-1 before falling 9-8 in San Francisco.
Underfunded Team New Zealand nearly folded after the 2013 debacle, but has bounced back with a remarkably fast boat design that includes a radical cycling grinding system, and spot on crew maneuvers. “We’ve proven we can races against these guys if we sail well but if we make too many mistakes like we did today then we won’t win races”.
Victory for Team New Zealand would cap Ashby’s stunning sailing career that already includes multiple world championships and an Olympic silver medal.
Such head-to-head duels can often determine the outcome of America’s Cup clashes, with Team New Zealand establishing an early lead which they never relinquished.
The 40-year-old British skipper had mixed fortunes in Bermuda, but his development team won the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup.
The America’s Cup, named after the schooner “America” which won it off the south coast of England in 1851, has only been held by teams from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland. The Kiwis lost again to Alinghi in 2007.