From the Editor's Desk - February 2020

February 06 2020

Phil Mack - Seattle Seawolves

Phil Mack Featured in MLR Article: Talks About Season 3, Respect and Importance of Local Club

Besides the fact Phil talks about the Seawolves and their upcoming MLR season, his transition to full time coaching, the point that stood out for me was his mention of the local club side, Saracens, and how important they were in the Seawolves success. It highlights his lateral thinking that hopefully will benefit Canada one day in a coaching or management role. Phil gets it, the Seawolves are building on work done before them, "They [Saracens] have put in a ton of groundwork over the last 20 years to help us be successful". The Saracens have played in the BC Leagues for much of their history and more recently in the BC Premier league.

Phil's recognition of a local club side that plays in the BC Premier is in stark contrast to the recognition the league has received from Rugby Canada in recent years. When we started BCRN in 2005 we saw almost every national team player come through the BC leagues, it was the only option for winter rugby in Canada. The Pacific Pride had played in the BC Premier league prior to the program's termination in 2005 by Rugby Canada. In those years the league got some respect from national team coaches and selectors, Ric Suggitt was head coach and had previously coached in the BC Premier league. When Kieran Crowley came in after the 2007 RWC to handle the next two RWC cycles that changed in a hurry, he had no knowledge of local rugby but knew that this wasn't Super Rugby and turned his back on the league. There were no viable alternatives at the time, the Canadian Rugby Championship was Rugby Canada's solution but it was still athletes playing in an amateur environment but now only during a brief time in the summer. The CRC eventually petered out to a weekend tournament and then vanished. It was during Crowley's second term when Canada's rankings took a steep dive and USA started to get ascendency, not only in the rankings but in the head to head matches. Mark Anscombe came and it only got worse. Kingsley Jones arrived and things have yet to improve.

There is hope though, MLR Rugby has come along and now in its 3rd season, adding a number of Canadians to a full time training environment. The Pacific Pride was reinstated this season adding another group of young players to a full time training environment under Jamie Cudmore's tutelage. The Canada U20 group have upped their financial backing through the Canadian Rugby Foundation, and those players are getting more tours and international playing time. There are Canadian coaches in the system like Phil Mack and Jamie Cudmore who are hopefully being groomed to take over the men's national XVs program.

Going back to the original point of Phil recognizing the importance of local club structure and the groundwork they lay. What does the future hold for the BC Premier league in terms of elite player development? It certainly has a role in providing competition to the Canada U23 academy, the Pacific Pride, on a weekly basis. The Pride have already had to add players from the BC Premier this season as their top players get moved up to MLR. It's almost a given today that a player needs to be in a full time training environment to be considered for national team selection. The regions in BC are making an effort to bridge that gap by offering club players extra training at a regional level, we'll wait and see how that turns out.

As someone once said, "change is the only constant in life". The rugby landscape is changing in Canada and the Americas, and as those changes occur there has to be dialog on how those moving pieces best fit together. As Phil mentioned in the article below, there's three core values in rugby, "respect, inclusion, and tradition", if we keep true to those values the dialog should provide the needed answers.

from MLR Rugby

Nearly two years ago Phil Mack was preparing to take charge of the Seattle Seawolves for their maiden campaign in Major League Rugby. Going into their first season Mack was unexpectedly called upon to expand his leadership role into coaching. The 32-year-old scrum-half served as both player and head coach as he led the team to beat the Colorado Raptors 23-19 in the Championship game.

A year later Mack was again a player-coach, although this time he was not leading the program. Serving as assistant coach to Richie Walker, Mack was a vital part yet again in Seattle’s second shield win in two seasons.

This year Mack is not currently planning to lace his boots up for the Seawolves, instead the Canadian international will learn as much as he can from new Head Coach, Kees Lensing.

“We’ve had a few ups and downs with some coaching issues in the first two season, but what we have established with our core group of senior players is a really strong team culture.” Mack said.

“It is very competitive and the guys, the players, drive the standards themselves. So, I think for any coach, that is the main battle; trying to get your team to hold themselves accountable. Luckily for us, we have a group of players that do that.”

As well as winning everything on the field the first two seasons, Seattle have also been one of the most ferociously supported teams in MLR. They have consistently sold out their home pitch of Starfire Stadium.

“It was a bit of a shock in year one, we weren’t sure who was going to show up. The club have put on an incredible game day experience, making the fans feel engaged.” Mack said, “Word travels fast and those fans who showed up to have a peek at rugby really enjoyed themselves and have come back ever since.

“That is a testament to the city and how they back their teams, but also to our ownership group to make sure that the fans are enjoying themselves and it is a nice product.”

Strengthening the side again this offseason, Seattle look as strong as ever heading into a new Major League Rugby season. Adding Argentina legend Juan Martin Leguizamon, as well as Ross Neal and Harry Davies to their squad, Lensing got three more players all accustomed to life as professional rugby players at very high levels.

No doubt hoping to add a third league title in three seasons, Seattle have developed a reputation for having a physical forward pack that opposition sides have found difficult to break down. With San Diego coming up in their first game, a repeat of last year’s Championship game, Mack expects a physical game in California.

“We know it is going to be a physical game. We know that they are going to come after us and we have a ton of respect for San Diego, they have brought in a ton of reinforcements as well and we expect nothing less than a really good game of rugby. It is going to be exciting.

“I think a lot of teams are still going to be figuring their way in the first few weeks, maybe getting rid of any cobwebs and getting into the swing of things.” Mack said, “But, we know San Diego are going to bring it, they have great coaches, great players and I know our boys are excited for it.”

Major League Rugby is centered on three core values: respect, inclusion, and tradition. Throughout the season, Major League Rugby is focused on how these values apply to players and teams. In February the core value is respect, which Mack believes to be the most important value.

“The nature of the last two years, having been very player driven, you need to have that mutual respect between each other. You kind of check your egos at the door, making sure that everyone feels included and that everyone has a voice on the team.

“To me, that is what separates rugby from every other sport. We have a great respect for the hard work that the Seattle Saracens [Seattle’s local club team] have done.” Mack said, “They have put in a ton of groundwork over the last 20 years to help us be successful as well.”

Seattle’s opening weekend trip to San Diego will be the first Major League Rugby game featured on the CBS Sports Network (CBSSN) of the 2020 season. The CBS Game of the Week airs on CBSSN at 2:00 PM PT.

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