A passion for rugby and tensile steel toughness has taken a Nuu-chah-nulth man from the rugby fields in Victoria, British Columbia to playing professionally in Europe. Phil Mack (age 27) is a member of the Toquaht First Nation located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Mack signed a professional contract to play the position of scrum half for the Ospreys of Swansea, Wales.
The Ospreys play in RaboDirect Pro 12, home to many of the world’s best rugby clubs and top players. “This is the first time I have been looked at or been in search of a professional job,” said Mack from Wales. “I’m extremely excited that it turned out to be the Ospreys given the caliber of play. It is a proud moment and I’m going to work hard.”
Similar to American football but minus the helmet and pads, rugby is played between two teams. The teams try to score points by moving a ball past the opposing team’s goal line or by kicking the ball through a pair of uprights on the opponent’s goal line. Players can run with the ball, kick it or pass it backward or sideways to a teammate. Rugby is played with either 15 or seven players a side.
Mack is one of three siblings and grew up in Victoria, BC. His late father Sid was Nuu-chah-nulth and his mother Janine is Lebanese. Mack started playing rugby at age 16 as a student at Oak Bay High School in Victoria, where he was a stand out scrum half. He played for the University of Victoria after graduating from high school.
In four years with UVIC, Mack played nationally and internationally for Canada played 19 times—14 of them capped. In rugby, being capped is a designation reserved for players who have competed in a high number of international matches. Mack is a former captain of the National Sevens team and has played in both the Pacific Nations Cup and the Rugby World Cup qualifiers.
“Rugby has taken me all over the world, and I have played in each continent,” Mack said. He’s been a member of Canada’s national team since 2007, and he was part of a gold medal team in the Pan American Games in 2012.
“Phil was a very exciting player for us. He won us many games on individual effort,” said UVIC head coach Doug Tate. “He’s a very talented offensive and defensive player. He plays at 100 miles per-hour and with a lot of passion.”
Other Aboriginals have also played top flight rugby. “Bob Ross and Rod Snow played at the senior level,” Mack said. Ross is a former Canadian National rugby player who earned 58 caps for Canada and was named captain twice. Snow played the prop position and earned 62 caps for Canada from 1995 to 2007. He also played professionally for Barbarian FC in England and for the Dragons in Newport, South Wales.
Mack says rugby teaches intangible skills that transcend the game. “It teaches you respect, commitment, and how to work for what you want,” he said. “I would encourage as many Aboriginal youngsters to pick the game up.” Those youngsters may not have to look far or wait long to learn the game because Mack is percolating the idea of an Aboriginal sevens rugby team when he returns from Wales.