Austin Gilgronis Names Simon Thomas Head of Athletic Performance

Austin Gilgronis Release

AG Rugby is delighted to announce the hiring of Head of Athletic Performance, Simon Thomas. Thomas joins the AGs after five seasons as the Head of Physical Performance for the Crusaders; the World’s most successful non-international professional rugby team and the winningest team in the history of Super Rugby.

Bringing Simon Thomas to Austin was of the highest priority for AG Rugby head coach Sam Harris in his first pre-season at the helm in Austin. “ST is the gold standard for the Head of Athletic Performance role – he’s got four consecutive Super Rugby titles to his name, so this appointment is the best possible example of the lengths we are prepared to go to provide our players a world-class high-performance program,” says Harris. “Simon Thomas leaving the best rugby organization in the world to come work for us is not only huge news for the AGs but a strong indicator of the direction this competition is heading.” Harris connected Thomas with the players, staff, and athletic trainers this winter; allowing Thomas to oversee the offseason program remotely from New Zealand.

“There are truly good people in every single role in this organization from the top on down to the people clipping tickets,” says Simon Thomas. “We’re not shackled by tradition because Austin prides itself on being weird, so it lets us be progressive in everything we do.”

Thomas’s role with the AGs will be to optimize player performance in concert with the AG coaching staff and athletic training staff. Simon Thomas and AGs Head Coach, Sam Harris, are already familiar with each other; having worked together with the Honda Heat in Japan. “When I worked with Sam [Harris] I knew he was a head coach in an assistant coaching role, when I saw he got this job I was so excited for him because I knew what he could do,” says Thomas. “So it’s really exciting for me to support that and get alongside Sam to work to bring his vision to life for the team and the whole area.”

This offseason, Thomas took command of the AG Rugby Strength and conditioning program and looks forward to taking even greater advantage of the AG’s newly renovated high-performance gym now that he’s headed for Texas. He looks to maximize the resources provided by recently announced founding partner, Ascension Seton Medical Center. “I was pleased with the condition of the group we saw in the performance testing from Ascension Seton, and what they were able to assess for us gave us some really pleasing numbers with where this team is at,” says Thomas. “That partnership with Ascension was a crucial one because it means our staff isn’t doing it alone, we’ve got all the resources we need in Ascension.” 

As the Head of Physical Performance Simon Thomas’ Crusaders won four consecutive titles (2017, ‘18, ‘19, ‘20). “The Crusaders are a team that works at such a high-level, for me it was about making them a fraction of a percent better and stay in front of the chasing pack,” says Thomas. “The challenge I love here with the AGs is building to that 99% and getting to the top of the mountain.” The AGs are two weeks into the pre-season program, and just 28 days from the opening kickoff of the MLR regular season. 

Welcome to the AGs, Simon Thomas!

Simon Thomas’s Story

“Growing up in New Zealand you’re born into the game, you’re doing the Haka in front of the TV, your dad plays and goes to the games,” starts Thomas. Thomas played rugby all through school and even went to train and study in a more professional setup in Ireland. At some stage of that Ireland journey, he came to terms that he probably didn’t have quite the ability to play professionally. Over in Ireland, Thomas realized it takes a village to build and develop a winning rugby team. After an apprenticeship with friend and mentor, Claire Dillison on the New Zealand Tall Blacks Basketball & Paralympic Team, Thomas decided it would be his mission to work in Strength and Conditioning for a professional rugby team. But which team? Well, his ultimate dream was to work with the team he spent his childhood years supporting, the Crusaders. The team his father had taken him to watch every year since its inception in 1996. But was that within reach?

He was warned there are not many jobs in professional rugby, but that didn’t stop him. He took opportunities as they arose, and he soaked up all he could. He formed crucial relationships with mentors like Ashley Jones who was successfully leading the Crusaders to Super Rugby championships at the time.

Jones sharpened Thomas’s craft and grew his love for developing professional athletes. Thomas joined up with High-Performance Sport New Zealand and tailored programs for all types of athletes and sports while investing himself fully into building the foundations of the Tasman Mako. Tasman was the newest team in the National competition who, at the time, had yet to see notable success but have since gone on to never miss the finals and have just won back-to-back National Championships. For Thomas, Tasman was a crucial step in his journey as he helped a program with solid foundations take the leap to the next level. The dream of standing alongside the Crusaders on the field became a reality one sunny afternoon on the 4th of March 2011 at Trafalgar Park in Nelson, the first of many ‘home games’ played on the road for the Crusaders who’s stadium in Christchurch had been destroyed. In an ironically cruel twist, that match was originally scheduled as a memorial match to honor the 29 lives lost in the Pike River Mine Disaster months prior. Thomas personally mourned the loss of close acquaintances from both catastrophes. Thomas’s highschool friend perished in the Mine Disaster, and that night the Crusaders wore the West Coast Rugby union local club jersey to honor the miners. “I stood with the team wearing the Mid Canterbury jersey, to honor my Godfather Phil McDonald,” says Thomas. “He was a longtime Crusaders board member, who passed in the Earthquake, a Crusader so true they played the club’s song at his funeral.” It was that day that Thomas decided, “yea, that’s the team I’m going to work for.”The following year, the Crusaders made their return to Christchurch; playing their home matches in the temporary stadium they still call home. In their first home match, Simon Thomas sat in the stands with his mother and godmother Sharon who had lost her husband in the earthquake. “It was at this moment that I promised myself again that I would work with this team and help to deliver a home final with a sold-out stadium and a championship win for everybody in our community.”And he did. Simon Thomas was brought into the Crusaders Physical Performance staff as an assistant S&C Coach and Supplement Manager. He then worked his way up to the Head of Strength and Conditioning and then further into the Head of Physical Performance in 2017. That year, the Crusaders played in the Super Rugby title for the first time in eight long years. But this match was played not in Christchurch, but in South Africa. And while the Crusaders lifted the trophy, there remained a fire that still burned in Thomas. 365 days later, the Crusaders won their second consecutive championship, this time at home in Christchurch. After Thomas celebrated with the team he made his way up into the stands and sat in the same place he had with his godmother six years prior. “I promised I’d deliver that, and it was a pretty special moment to sit and reflect on my -and really our- journey to that point.” Two more championships later, Thomas feels fulfilled in all he’s done in Christchurch. “I love the Crusaders, they’re my team, my home, and my family,” says Thomas. “So it’s a tough place to decide to move on from but I’ve been able to achieve some pretty cool things over the last four to eight years.”Today, Thomas looks forward to his new challenge. Across the world from his humble beginning, Simon Thomas looks to help the AGs to their first MLR Championship.

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