Phil Mack is the new attack coach for the Canadian rugby 15s senior men’s team.
The Toquaht Nation citizen and champion rugby player says his aim is to lift the team back into the Rugby World Cup (RWC). Last year was the first time in the 37-year history of the quadrennial tournament that Team Canada did not qualify.
“It’s the crown jewel. When I was playing, we were ranked anywhere from 12 to 16 (in the world). Currently, we are at 21,” said Mack.
“Missing the World Cup is a really big blow,” he added. “It means they’re missing the biggest rugby tournament in the world; it’s just something that every rugby country aspires to. For it to be the first time we never made it, was a bit of a shock to everybody. I’m really excited to be part of positive change.”
The scrum half from Victoria, B.C. played 59 caps for Canada between 2009 and 2019, including competing at the 2015 and 2019 RWC. Mack also represented Canada in 52 international sevens tournaments, winning gold at the 2011 and 2015 Pan American Games and competing at the 2009 and 2013 RWC Sevens.
Mack signed with the Seattle Seawolves in 2017, winning back-to-back Major League Rugby (MLR) championship titles as player-coach in 2018 and 2019. In September 2020, Mack joined Rugby Canada’s Pacific Pride Development Academy as an assistant coach, moving into the head coach position in 2021. Since Mack joined the program’s coaching staff, 20 Pacific Pride players have gone on to sign MLR contracts, with 13 players earning their first caps for Canada’s Men’s Rugby Team and nine making their debuts with Canada’s men’s sevens team, reads a Rugby Canada media release.
“There wasn’t that development program five years ago. I think that’s a massive piece, just making sure those players are ready for the next level,” he said, noting that he will remain as technical lead of the Pacific Pride while working with the senior men’s national team.
Kingsley Jones, head coach of Canada’s men’s rugby team, is in full support of Mack.
“Phil is a standout individual with immense leadership qualities. He is a student of the game, has a huge work ethic, and genuinely cares about the players, and these are some of the key characteristics required to be an elite coach,” said Jones in a media release.
Indigenous culture and the sport of rugby
Mack is likely the first Indigenous coach ever appointed by Rugby Canada.
“I feel really proud. It’s something I’ve wanted for a while and worked hard to achieve,” he said. “Being the first (Indigenous) coach comes with some sort of responsibility towards my community in the sense that I can set some sort of example for what is possible.”
In 2017, Mack captained Team Canada in an international match against the Maori All Blacks, a New Zealand rugby team made exclusively of Maori people.
“That was pretty special. The cultural ties are really close,” said Mack.
It’s been about 10 years since Mack helped launch Thunder Indigenous Rugby, an Aboriginal youth rugby program based on Vancouver Island.
“We took 32 youth on a tour to New Zealand last summer and we are planning on doing the same in August 2025. I don’t think there were any of those types of opportunities when I was growing up,” said Mack, who learned to play rugby at Oak Bay High School in Victoria.
Thunder Rugby program manager John Lyall, of Kwakwaka’wakw descent, has known Mack for over 20 years. He wasn’t surprised to see Mack named to Team Canada’s coaching staff.
“It’s a testament to his ability. We’re just so proud of Phil and all he’s done for representing himself and his nation. He’s an inspiration to us all,” said Lyall.
“Rugby is a fantastic game. It’s a game you can play for life and make lifelong friends,” he went on to note.
Mack couldn’t agree more.
“You’re gonna win, you’re gonna lose, but the one thing that is constant is you’re basically building a family within that team,” said Mack.
Indigenous youth can register for 2024 Thunder Rugby summer camps by visiting: thunderrugby.ca.