A passion for rugby and tensile steel toughness has taken a Nuuchahnulth man from the rugby pitches in Victoria to playing professionally in Wales.
Phil Mack, 27, a member of the Toquaht First Nation on the West Coast, is playing scrum half for the Ospreys of Swansea. He signed a contract to play earlier this fall.
The Ospreys play in RaboDirect Pro 12, which his home to many of the world’s most storied rugby clubs and top flight 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 and just try and contribute as best I can.”
Mack is one of three siblings and grew up in Victoria. His late father Sid was Nuuchahnulth, and his mother Janine is Lebanese.
He started playing rugby at age 16 while a student at Oak Bay High School, 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. He is a former captain of the National Sevens team, and has played in the Pacific Nations Cup and in the Rugby World Cup qualifiers. “Rugby has taken me all over the world and 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, Mack said. “Bob Ross and Rod Snow played at the senior level,” he said.
Ross is a former Canadian National rugby player who earned 58 caps for Canada, and was twice 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.
Rugby teaches intangible skills that transcend the game, Mack said. “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. Mack is percolating the idea of an Aboriginal seven’s rugby team when he returns.
~With files from Travis Patterson