By Ian Ransom
(Reuters) - Team New Zealand won the 36th America's Cup on Wednesday, wrapping up a 7-3 victory over challenger Luna Rossa to savour a triumphant defence of the 'Auld Mug' in sparkling home waters off the coast of Auckland.
The final race 10 ended up a victory lap for the hosts as they notched their fifth race win in succession, the peerless 'Te Rehutai' yacht roaring to a 46-second win to trigger partying on spectator yachts and among crowds on the foreshore.
TNZ helmsman Peter Burling soaked up his second America's Cup triumph, having reclaimed sport's oldest international trophy with a 7-1 win over Oracle Team USA at the 2017 match in Bermuda.
The 30-year-old Olympic champion sprayed his team mates with champagne as they celebrated on deck after delivering the country its fourth America's Cup.
"It's unreal. Seeing all the people involved over three-four years, how many Kiwis out here supporting the campaign -- messages from everyone, from the Prime Minister to high school kids, it means the world to us," said Burling.
"We're blown away by what we've achieved as a group."
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wasted little time pledging the government's commitment to another defence.
"Team New Zealand has once again made us all so proud by retaining the America’s Cup as New Zealand’s cup,” Ardern said in a statement.
"We want to see it all over again in 2023."
A fleet of yachts escorted TNZ back to shore as foghorns blared and thousands of fans cheered on Auckland's sunbathed Viaduct Harbour.
Beaten 5-0 by TNZ in 2000 and 4-1 by the United States in 1992, Luna Rossa fought bravely for much of the best-of-13 series and secured Italy's best result in its third America's Cup match.
But up against a faster boat, errors in tactics and execution proved decisive as they gave up a 3-2 lead.
Luna Rossa co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill lost a second successive America's Cup to TNZ, having broken New Zealand hearts in the 2013 match by captaining Oracle Team USA to eight successive race wins for a 9-8 victory in San Francisco.
"Obviously, pretty disappointed," said the Australian.
"I felt like we could have won a few more races against the Kiwis, but to be quite honest, at times it felt we were taking a knife to a gunfight.
"They did an incredible job, developed an incredible tool and package there ... All you can do is tip your hat."
In contrast to race nine's thrilling battle on Tuesday, the decider proved little more than a procession after getting underway following a short postponement.
TNZ threw down the gauntlet straight out of the start gate with a tack to the right, which proved a masterstroke as they claimed a slender lead and extended it to nine seconds by the second mark.
Luna Rossa had a poor exit from the second gate and TNZ blew the race open with a dominant third leg.
The Italians needed a mistake from the New Zealanders but none were forthcoming as 'Te Rehutai', some four-five knots quicker on the downwind legs, rounded the final mark 49 seconds clear and cruised to victory.
"We got better and better every race and today just showed the speed of the boat," said TNZ flight controller Blair Tuke.
"Really happy to get a good start, we were on the right side of the race track.
"From there we never really gave them a chance."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)