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Six Nations Power Rankings: Irish eyes will be smiling if they can hold off France's final push

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Roar Rookie
14th March, 2023
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1087 Reads

When it comes to France’s chances or the pluck of the Irish this weekend in the Six Nations this weekend, both teams have their strengths.

For the French it is purely their physical power. On that front they are ahead of the Irish by 42 baguette lengths at least, however in terms of the team power ranking and not the bookies, the Irish are well ahead.

On the standings heading into the final round, Ireland and four points up on France. The Irish finish with a home clash with England in a match which kicks off after France should be too strong for Wales in Paris.

This is the third and final instalment of the Six Nations Power Rankings likening the teams to Warren Buffett’s stockmarket savvy. Part one covered off Scotland and Italy before the second edition put the financial spotlight on England and Wales.

My imaginary couch guest is in for a treat this weekend. How to go about explaining the revival of the France rugby team to the Oracle of Omaha?

Or to explain how a whippet-like Irish team has smashed most of the competition so far in 2023?

Incidentally, each team’s World Cup odds are very similar – France are sitting at even odds of 4 to 1 with the Irish at 5.5/1.

Back to it: which stock in Buffett’s portfolio would France and Ireland represent?

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France is a lesson in cash + fans = Success. France has been to rugby what Silicon Valley has been to Tech. Network effects create success.

Damian Penaud of France celebrates early as he sees a clear path to scoring their 5th try during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby match between England and France at Twickenham Stadium on March 11, 2023 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

Damian Penaud celebrates early as he sees a clear path to scoring for France against England. (Photo by Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

France created the modern iteration of mercenary rugby contracting; hoovering up talent from across the world for the last 15 years. Many thought that this would make the French team worse, and it did for some time. And then, creative competition and clever signings started to bear fruit.

A brief birth certificate scan shows Peato Mauvaka from New Caledonia, Paul Willemse from South Africa, Sipili Falatea from the Wallis and Futuna Islands (Google that), Uini Antonio from New Zealand.

Also depth in spades from French-born players such as Charles Ollivon, Gael Fickou, Sekou Macalou and Thibaud Flament.

That depth has been intentionally created by bringing in players from across the world and driving rugby hard to grow the leagues.

“Leagues”, the plural, is important here – not just one tier of rugby. If you ever have a gap and watch some Pro D2 rugby you will see a mix of every nation with older heads, could-bes, should-bes and has-beens; France is a modern rugby success story.

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OK, we haven’t touched on patterns, coaches, individual genius but Warren likes to invest in businesses that have a strong cash balance. His skill is often in identifying companies that have a large moat: a defensible position to lead the market.

So what does France have? A boatload of balance sheet cash from private equity? Sure.

That’s helpful, but so is having a uniquely tiered system of rugby competitions that bring in talent from across the world and spins out local and foreign talent to the national side.

And the fans? Well, France has an ecosystem that people enjoy, both in top tier and Pro D2. France engages its audience. On a recent trip to Rome I kept running into beret toting, blue-bedecked people having a great time. The buyers are engaged in France’s rugby brand.

What if I told you that there is a stock in BRK’s portfolio that is built on two tiers of products, has a committed fanbase and an ecosystem that people buy into? That the company in question has diversified its employee base and attracts talent from the world over?

The smart money says France could be Apple – ticker APPL.

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Much like Berkshire’s biggest holding – Apple, France invests in itself, much like APPL, France has built its success on two tiers of products that people really enjoy i.e. the iPhone and the Mac products.

France has similarities to Apple- which is Buffett’s biggest holding at the moment – but also France has come steaming out since Covid 19. Just like Apple.

Its a buy. With a large caution.

How good are France without Antoine DuPont and Romain Ntamack? The last recognisable No.9 to wear a France shirt may be Morgan Parra. Matthieu Jalibert is the back-up 10. They’ve depth aplenty across the team but are hugely reliant on the 9/10 combo and no successors for those two in case of injury.

Now. To Ireland we go, in pole position of the aptly sponsored “Guinness Six Nations”.

Here’s a Warren Buffett witticism: “Find a very smart high-grade partner – preferably slightly older than you – and then listen very carefully to what he says”.

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Ireland’s team on paper is not this good. On paper they are not worth sitting at the top spot of the world rankings. On paper…

A look at their balance sheet will tell you that they won awards and competitions between 2013 and 2018 but they also lost more games and there is not much cash in the bank when compared to England and France.

Let’s have a look at the records: Six Nations Winners in 2014, 2015 and 2018 with a Grand Slam. They also won the 2018 World Rugby Team of the Year and won the Coach of the Year.

Domestically they are strong-ish, tellingly they have only four big provincial clubs, of which Leinster has been a juggernaut in its class.

Sure Dan Sheehan makes the World XV- on the bench behind Malcolm Marx – but the rest of the team?

On paper the team performance vs the team doesn’t make sense.

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Warren would say if they get stellar results without a moat, then it’s either a class leading product or amazing management – or both.

It is a conversation about management with Ireland. It all starts with a man called Joe Schmidt, who at the helm set them up for success. That period between 2013 and 2019 was his before he handed over to Farrell the Older. Irish Rugby then brought on the legendary Paul O’Connell to coach the forwards.

Yes, there are others, but the third part of the coaching triumvirate is Johnny Sexton. O’Connell and the on-field coach Johnny Sexton are old comrades, having played together for a decade in the Irish and Lions setups.

Ireland are where they are because the direction from the coaching has been so good. As a team they are so well drilled, they have this crazy mix of well- skilled players in tip top condition matched with a seamless, fast style of play. The play style has been years ahead of every other team, sometimes chaotic if it doesn’t work, but most of the time it works so well.

sexto

Jonathan Sexton of Ireland celebrates after kicking a late penalty during the Bank of Ireland Nations Series match between Ireland and South Africa at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Wise management in terms of Sexton and O’Connell, well set up by Schmidt, continued by Farrell.. There is a lesson here.

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At this point Warren is going to say that this is very similar to a business he bought based on its management, not one that is an external company that he owns stock in. Buffett bought a business called Nebraska Furniture Mart in 1989 from an 89 year old lady by the name of Rose Blumkin.

If you have never heard of Rose Blumkin, she deserves a Google.

Rose was an amazing lady who started her business from a garage, she sold it to Buffett’s Berkshire in 1989 and continued to work until she was a 102 years old! That’s the same age as Sextons knees. Mrs Blumkin was famous for working at the factory well into her advanced age – much like Sexton and O’Connell – and keeping a steady hand on the tiller.

Jokes aside, Buffett thought that NFM was so well run, and was so impressed with its growth that he bought 80% of it and added it to the Berkshire-owned companies.

Ireland looks very similar. They’ve gotten massive gains, without spending the big bucks that England and France have. Instead they have had the right people at the helm and in the trenches, a team that has been coached and conditioned to peak performance.

Its a buy for now. But with the World Cup looming, is this a last hurrah for Sexton and co?

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