America's Cup 2021: Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli earn right to challenge Emirates Team NZ for 'Auld Mug'

Challengers of record Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli - and Aussie helmsman Jimmy Spithill - will take on Emirates Team NZ for the America's Cup next month, after vanquishing the British on the Hauraki Gulf.

The Italians needed two victories on Sunday to clinch the best-of-13 challenger final series, and overcame drama at both starts to simply sail away by 1m 45s and 56s respectively.

Although Luna Rossa and Team NZ have enjoyed a close relationship previously, they have already crossed swords off the water in the build-up to this regatta and most recently - under the guise of Challenger of Record 36 and America's Cup Events - over when to race under COVID-19 alert levels.

That rivalry will now take to the waters off Auckland, where the Italians were swept 5-0 by Team NZ in their only previous America's Cup match in 2000. 

The Kiwis will also be wary of Aussie Spithill, who will contest his third straight Cup series, after a successful Oracle Team USA defence off San Francisco in 2013 and then losing the 'Auld Mug' to New Zealand at Bermuda four years ago.

"Pretty good day at the office," Spithill deadpanned immediately after Sunday's deciding win.

"Fantastico, fantastico," cried co-helmsman Francesco Bruni. "We are different - Australian and Italians - very different."

In an event often decided by innovation, Luna Rossa are the only team operating under dual helmsman and have shown the benefits of that two-heads-better-than-one approach, but only after improving the communication on board their AC76 foiling monohull.

Counterpart Sir Ben Ainslie - heralded as the world's greatest sailor after four Olympic gold medals - was desperate to build on Team UK's first finals win the previous day and brought a more aggressive approach to the start of both Sunday races.

When the Italians tried to squeeze him off the line in race one, Ainslie dove his boat between them and the marker, incurring a penalty for passing too close to his opponents. Tacking away to serve the penalty, Team UK accidentally found the better wind and actually emerged ahead.

Race officials repeatedly urged them to drop back to serve their punishment, which ultimately cost them any chance of turning the tide for good. 

With his back to the wall, Ainslie poured on the pressure again an hour later, forcing his rivals across the line early to gain an early advantage.

But once Luna Rossa had cleared their penalty, they simply sailed past and sailed away.

"We tried to keep the mistakes down, keep calm, make good decisions and let the boat do the work," says Spithill.

Sir Ben was left lamenting one of the few sailing trophies to have eluded him during his incredible career.

"We're obviously disappointed we couldn't get through, but we'll have to go back to the drawing board to see what we can do," he says.

Join us on March 6 for live updates of the opening America's Cup races between Team NZ and Luna Rossa