A weighted, half a rugby ball, ShadowBall, has been unveiled and is engineered to rebound off any wall and come spiralling back to the passer, and for the first time, 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 said.
Crookes came up with the idea in 2012 after seeing a similar concept being used in American football. After visiting factories abroad, he used 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, 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.
"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,” said former Valke Rugby player and St. Mary's Under-18 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.”
Bobo remains firmly involved and is one of the ShadowBall Ambassadors, alongside other ex-Springboks, Dean Hall, Sino Ganto and Morgan Newman.
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.
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.
This rugby technique training tool has been incorporated into the training routines of the Sharks, Golden Lions and Blue Bulls Under-21.
It has also 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.
“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.