Thunder Aboriginal Youth Rugby Program

September 08 2015

Thunder Aboriginal Youth Rugby

Thunder and RBC Team Up to Send Two Players and Assistant Coach to Surprise Phil Mack at RWC Send Off Dinner

posted Sept 8 2015
[ed. The Thunder are putting two teams in the North Shore 7s this weekend and are short a couple of players. Any nominations contact John Lyall at]

It was nice to see a potential major sponsor like RBC get involved in this endeavour. The Thunder program has been well supported by local sponsors like Shawnigan Lake School, Langara Fishing Adventures, Helijet along with the local rugby clubs and their supporters.

Samantha, Phil, Hunter and Crosby

Rugby Canada media report

Phil Mack will be playing in his first Rugby World Cup later this month but he received one final surprise before heading overseas.

RBC teamed up with the Vancouver Island Thunder Aboriginal Rugby Program to send two aboriginal players, Samantha Jack and Hunter Grant, and their assistant coach, Crosby Stewart, to Canada’s official Rugby World Cup send-off dinner in Toronto last week.

“When I was asked to attend the World Cup send-off dinner to surprise Phil Mack, I agreed without a hesitation,” Grant said. “It felt great to find a way to show my gratitude to Phil for all the time he's invested in the Vancouver Island Aboriginal Thunder rugby program and for the other ways Phil has helped support and promote rugby in my community.”

RBC purchased one of the tables at the dinner that also featured three members of Canada’s gold winning rugby wheelchair athletes from this year’s Parapan Am Games.

“It was a fantastic surprise and certainly something I didn’t expect,” Mack said. “It was amazing to spend time with Samantha, Hunter and Crosby. The Thunder is a wonderful program that supports and develops young aboriginal players and I’m thrilled to be a part of it."

Jack, Grant and Stewart had the opportunity to chat with not just Mack, but also other members of Canada’s World Cup squad, something Grant said he can use as motivation for his own career.

“I had the chance to meet many people involved with the national team, including the players themselves, the families of the athletes, and the people who organize programs to bring rugby to less-fortunate communities,” Grant said. “I felt very inspired to be in the presence of players at the elite level, and it showed me where I could go if I work hard enough towards that goal.”

In addition to attending the dinner, Jack, Grant and Stewart also got to check out the Ripley’s Aquarium and the CN Tower as well as receiving a private tour of the Air Canada Centre.

Toronto is set to host the 2017 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) and Vancouver Island Thunder Aboriginal Rugby Program are one of many aboriginal clubs vying to get rugby included the games. According to John Lyall, the Vancouver Island Thunder director, it’s pivotal they do.

“It would be huge for the growth of the game and our community to get rugby into those games for the first time,” Lyall said. “We’ll be working with Rugby Canada and the Provincial Unions to try and make that happen. We started our program on Vancouver Island but our vision is to see the program expand across the country.”


The Thunder is a rugby program started in 2013 that is focused on providing development opportunities for Aboriginal youth in the U18, U16, U14 age groups. It features Phil Mack from the Toquaht Nation and current national team fifteens and sevens player as the head coach. The highlight of the year is the training camp generously hosted by Shawnigan Lake School followed by the Victoria 7s International Youth tournament. In 2015 the Thunder had four teams entered in the tournament, Girls U18 and U16, Boys U18 and U16. The team has attracted attention worldwide and was featured by World Rugby in a video in 2014. In 2016 an indigenous youth team from New Zealand is planning a trip to Vancouver Island to participate in the tournament and play a set of matches against the Thunder. One of the goals of the program is to see rugby included for the first time in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in 2017.

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