Rugby: Rugby converting to flashing balls as goal doubts kicked into touch

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The Independent Online
A REMARKABLE invention has gone on trial to the amazement of rugby players and spectators throughout the country - the world's first flashing rugby ball.

The ball is able to indicate a successful kick at goal by emitting light as it passes between the posts. It is the result of six years of collaboration between ball manufacturers Gilbert, and University College, London.

When the ball passes between the uprights and over the crossbar, it travels through a magnetic field that energises biological material on the surface of the ball. The field is generated by electronic circuitry inside the posts.

All players and spectators can now see if the kick has gone over, rather than just those in line with the kicker. The new ball also saves the linesmen a long run to the posts, since it is their job to "flag up" the conversion.

The team of researchers led by Professor Peter Frampton, use extract from crushed firefly tails as the light source. The light-emitting chemical - known as Luciferin - is commonly used by biochemists to indicate energy output, and normally glows when energised by electrons. The biological material is extracted, purified and coated on to the ball with a polymer material then applied as a protective sealant.

Professor Frampton spoke excitedly of the possible gains from this development. "The years of research and development costs will soon be offset by sales around the world. There are lucrative markets abroad, especially in the major rugby-playing nations - New Zealand, South Africa and Australia."

At home, Blackheath rugby union club have expressed an interest. A lifelong supporter of the club, Prof Frampton has given demonstrations of the ball to the home crowd. "As the world's oldest club, it is fitting they should be the first to enjoy developments at the forefront of technology," he said.

Critics point out that if the ball does go into production, there simply will not be enough fireflies to keep pace with demand. Prof Frampton quickly counters this.

"Recombinant DNA technology has now advanced to the point where we can make tons of the stuff by genetic engineering," he said. "UCL have already developed a fermentation vessel for the job. This will not only increase the yield of biologically active material, but will also appease the animal rights lobby, who object to the wholesale slaughter of fireflies."