[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]A weighted, half a rugby ball is being hailed as one of the greatest new innovations in rugby. The ShadowBall is engineered to rebound off any wall and come spiralling back to the passer, and for the first time ever, it enables rugby players to train solo passing and catching.

“Skill and technique are often confused” says ShadowBall inventor, Gary Crookes. “Techniques are trained in practice, but when applied instinctively in a match situation, that’s skill.
“A professional team might only practice passing and catching 30 to 60 times in a practice session. In contrast, the ShadowBall allows 300 solo passes and catches in just ten minutes – that’s ten times the repetition and reinforcement of fundamental technique.
“ShadowBall is the rugby equivalent of the practice wall for tennis players and the driving range for golfers. For rapid improvement, repetition training is the only solution,” Crookes says.
Crookes came up with the idea in 2012 after seeing a similar concept being used in American football. After visiting factories abroad, he used cutting edge processes and materials to design and create the ball according to IRB specifications, so that it matches the weight and diameter of an IRB specification match ball.

Enlisting the help of the University of Stellenbosch Centre for Human Performance Sciences, a game handbook was designed for players. Then, with the help of Dr. Ray Finch who is renowned for his work with international cricket teams, Crookes tested and measured passing and catching abilities with players at Jeppe High School in Johannesburg. This research showed that the ball can increase passing accuracy by as much as 266% in four weeks.

Teaming up with former Springbok, Gcobani Bobo, they went on to develop passing drills grounded in the player’s experience. Crookes continued to test the product with coaches and players at top rugby schools before launching the product globally in 2015. Protected under South African registered design laws, ShadowBall has been widely praised as a revolutionary training aid by many in rugby circles.

“The reality is that in today’s game, players are going to gym, doing extra fitness, dieting and supplementing but very few are focusing on core skills such as passing or handling,” says former Valke Rugby player and St. Mary’s U18 Head RFC Coach, Gareth Maritz.

“If you are a serious rugby player or are just looking for ways to improve your game, ShadowBall is the perfect tool to develop personal handling and passing skills – it’s a necessity for any rugby player,” Maritz adds.

Bobo remains firmly involved and is one of the ShadowBall Ambassadors, alongside other ex-Springboks, Dean Hall, Sino Ganto and Morgan Newman.

“I’ve been on board with ShadowBall from the start as it has been my passion to push this ball and programme,” says Bobo. “In South African rugby, we can always improve on being better decision makers under pressure – making the right pass accurately.

“ShadowBall is a skill aid that’s all about repetition, doing the basics until you get it right and then perfecting it. It gives you a chance to master your skill, as long as you put in the time.

“I wish I had a ShadowBall when I was a player. The skill set of passing and catching is the most important part of the game,” Bobo says.
Currently, office solutions partner, Nashua, has sponsored ShadowBall and together they have formed the Nashua Rugby Skills Project (NRSP) which is rolling out to 72 schools across the South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. Once completed, the roadshow will have trained more than 2,500 Grade 8 pupils to develop their rugby skills.

The initiative has been widely praised for its strong CSI and business elements. Every activation upskills two schools, one selected by a Nashua franchise to participate and a corresponding development school, plus the roadshow has enabled the sponsor to make in-roads into the education sector and provide each school with a free office assessment.

After the first round of training, NRSP leaves every school with branded ShadowBalls, a coach’s manual and a set of Google cardboards with instructional footage for the coaches and kids. The project then revisits the school for round two after six weeks and the same tests are performed to collect improvement data. Previous assessments at numerous Jo’burg-based schools have shown an average team performance increase of 20% in a mere four weeks.
“Nashua is helping us show just how important this product is for rugby in South Africa and how it can change the game,” says Crookes.

“ShadowBall is actively looking for other sponsors who can be Powered by ShadowBall and continue to help us uplift rugby at a grassroots level. It’s a great way to position your brand and do business while uplifting the game of rugby in South Africa and developing human beings through sport,” adds Crookes.

This powerful rugby technique training tool has been incorporated into the training routines of the Sharks, Golden Lions and Blue Bulls Under 21. International players like Nick Phipps from the Warratahs and CJ Stander who plays for the Irish team Munster are also ShadowBall fans.

It has also being widely adopted in many of the top 100 rugby schools also known as the “Springbok factory of South Africa” such as Jeppe, Monument High, Paarl Boys, Westville Boys and Grey College. Coaches have seen how ShadowBall can perfect both left and right hand passing and catching, improve lineout throws and ambidextrous spin passing ability, plus develop stronger, longer, and more accurate passing.

“Passing and catching is the most important part of the game,” concludes Crookes. “We see this demonstrated by the New Zealand team over and over again. The All Blacks are so good because their team can flawlessly pass and catch the ball and run across the field.

“Bruce Lee once said that he feared the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times and this is what we are working on for South African rugby. ShadowBall can help lift South Africa up to be a winning nation in rugby again – it’s a complete game changer.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]