Arriving in Auckland victorious in the next leg of the Volvo Ocean Race would be akin to winning the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, according to Groupama helmsman Thomas Coville.

The 5,200 nautical mile fourth leg sees the race return to Auckland for the first time in more than 10 years, and given the sheer level of interest in the sport in New Zealand the winners, whoever they are, can expect a warm and appreciative welcome back to land.

"To go and win in Auckland is like winning the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand,” Coville said. “It is definitely at the front of everyone’s mind. Auckland is also pretty much the halfway point of the race, and it will give everyone the first good idea about who will ultimately take victory in the Volvo Ocean Race.”

With just nine points separating Groupama from second-placed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand in the overall standings, Coville said his team would look to cause an upset for their rivals, who launched their boat in Auckland and boast seven Kiwis in the crew.

"We have a direct competitor which is CAMPER, second in the overall standings, and we’re third,” Coville said. “We are catching them up.

"Beating them into Auckland, whether that’s just about the numbers, getting the points, or whether it’s purely psychological, it’s certainly very important."

Leg 4 will see the six teams sail out of the South China Sea, through the Philippine Sea and into the Pacific.

"It’s a tricky leg,” Coville said. “It’s a leg which, more in terms of psychological significance than in terms of the pure sporting result, is of utmost importance.”

Although a French team, Groupama have their own New Zealander on board in the form of bowman Brad Marsh.

"It would be great if Brad was the first New Zealander to get to Auckland,” added Groupama skipper Franck Cammas. “We will all fight for that. For sure Auckland is a place with lots of offshore racing fans and sailing, so we know the arrival there will be truly extraordinary and very well celebrated by the population. If we can arrive with our Kiwi in the lead we will be really happy.”

Leg 4 starts from Sanya on February 19, with the Sanya Haitang Bay In-Port Race taking place in Sanya Bay the day before, February 18.

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