SEATTLE — This Friday (March 8), reigning Major League Rugby Champion Seattle Seawolves will host the 2019 Americans Rugby Championship and for two Seawolves stars, one of the games is taking on special meaning. Scrum-Half Phil Mack is on Team Canada’s roster, while SeaTac native, prop Oli Kilifi is repping the USA Men’s Eagles team. Phil and Oli have gone head to head numerous times in international competition, but this will be the first time they’ll face each other since both joined the Seawolves. While both say their positions don’t cross paths often on the pitch, Phil’s keeping an eye out for his hefty teammate. “I’m just hoping to avoid the big man,” he laughed.
Both have been playing rugby for years, with Oli being introduced to the game as a child. “Rugby is part of my family,” he said. “It’s the national team for my parents’ home countries (his father is from Tonga and his mother is from Samoa).” He played youth rugby near his home town of SeaTac and earned All American honors while playing at Tyee High School. He debuted with the US national rugby team in 2013, with an international play win over Georgia. He was an instrumental addition to the 2015 World Cup team and served as Captain at the 2016 Americas Rugby Championship at the senior level.
Oli says his debut against Georgia is a highlight of international play. Another highlight: “One of the biggest experiences and biggest achievements was the 2015 World Cup. It was a pretty big accomplishment because of the work I put in, and the environment. It was then that I recognized how big the sport was on the international level.”
Phil’s passion for rugby was ignited in high school, when he was in 10th grade at Oak Bay High School in Victoria, BC. He says what drew him to rugby was “the contact elements of the game, but what kept me in rugby was, in part, the brotherhood and camaraderie, but more so the respect aspect of the game. From the ref to the opponents, it truly is a unique game in that regard.”
Phil debuted for the Canadian national team in 2009 and has been part of their roster since then. He became the first Canadian player to appear in 50 HSBC World Sevens Series tournaments and represented Canada in the Pan Am (winning back to back gold medals), the Commonwealth Games, and the World Cup. With so many incredible appearances, does he have a favorite memory of international play? “There have been a few special moments for sure. Earning your first cap (first appearance for your country) is always special, so that would have to be in there. Winning a Pan Am Games gold medal in front of a home crowd in Toronto is one that comes to mind after that.”
Each player described their position, for those who may not be familiar with the game.
Phil: “A scrum-half would best be described as a distributor of the ball or the link between the forwards and the backs. Scrum-halfs often dictate the pace of play.”
Oli: “A prop is the equivalent of an NFL lineman. The position is like a power position. The main role of a prop is creating a set piece, which is a term that pretty much describes restarting a game. If there’s an infraction that happens throughout the game, their job is to win the ball back or gain that momentum again.”
Both say they’re thriving within the Seawolves organization and credit their teammates and fans for helping build a team that won the Major League Rugby Championship Shield in its inaugural year last year.
Phil: “For me, the best part about living and playing in Seattle are the people. First, because my teammates on the Seawolves and the ‘family feel’ we have built over the last year. And second, the incredible fans who turn up every game ready to support us. I have been lucky enough to play rugby all around the world and can honestly say that our Seawolves fans rank way up there in terms of support and enthusiasm.”
Oli: “It’s huge. I can’t explain it. I think every kid that ever wanted to play a professional sport has always had a desire to play for their home city. There’s a great pride representing where you’re from, the people who helped you get to where you are. It goes back to this USA game. This is the first time an international game has been played in Seattle and I’m able to be part of it. My family is able to come out and watch me regularly now. I’m able to see the fields that I grew up playing on as a 13-year-old, to be able to go and coach (Seawolves players regularly visit youth teams and hold coaching sessions) teams I played for, to be able to give back. Seattle has a great rugby community.”
Phil and Oli say they spend a lot of time together and are good friends, so we asked them a few probing questions:
Who’s the better cook (and what’s your signature dish)?
Phil: “That is tough. We haven’t actually cooked for each other but I’m going to go out on a limb and say… I am. My favorite food to cook is probably a well-cooked sockeye salmon.”
Oli: “That’s a tough one. I think I’d take that, because I like to eat. I’m significantly bigger than Phil. He’d probably say him but I would say I take this one. My favorite food to cook is a pasta-type dish, like spaghetti.”
Phil: “Oli, for sure. We have some good comedians on the team with the likes of Vili (Toluta’u) and Mat Turner, but Oli delivers the goods.”
Oli: “I’d probably give that to Phil. I like to laugh at jokes but I’m not good at telling them. Phil is very witty. He’s very quick with the jokes.”
Who’s the more fashionable dresser?
Phil: “I don’t think either of us is very fashionable, but if I have to pick it would be Oli because he always has something spicy going on with his hair.”
Oli: “I’d probably give that to Phil. I’m more about comfort. He likes to get flashy.”
Who would win in an arm wrestling contest?
Phil: “This is an unfair question. Oli wins.”
Oli: “I’d destroy Phil.”
Who has better taste in music?
Phil: “Oli would have to take this as well. Guy knows what gets the people going.”
Oli: “I would say myself. I listen to a variety of music. I’m not sure Phil even listens to music.”
Get to know Phil, Oli, and the rest of the Seawolves by checking out an upcoming game. Find the schedule and player bios at: www.seattleseawolves.com.
Connect with the team on Facebook: Seattle Seawolves
Here’s more information about the Americas Rugby Championship 2019:
USA vs Canada
Friday, March 8
Starfire Stadium (14800 Starfire Way, Seattle, WA 98188)
Kickoff is at 7:00 pm but gates open at 5:00 pm.