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Fast and curious

According to one mischievous Borders legend, when lunar pioneer Neil Armstrong came back from the moon and arrived in Langholm for the ceremony that would make him a freeman of his family's ancestral home, he took one look at the little town and said:

Carlin Isles embarks on a brilliant run, but fails to touch the ball down for a tryPhotograph: Steve Cox
Carlin Isles embarks on a brilliant run, but fails to touch the ball down for a tryPhotograph: Steve Cox

"Bugger me, this is the weirdest place I've ever been."

It would not take the greatest leap of imagination to guess that Carlin Isles muttered something similar when the Ayr team bus rolled into Hawick yesterday afternoon.

The 24-year-old American, dubbed the fastest man in world rugby, has grown accustomed to the sport's more glamorous venues since he turned his back on sprinting and joined the international sevens circuit two seasons ago.

But a couple of hours at Mansfield Park is just the kind of culture shock that can bring a man back down to earth, and it happened quite literally in his case: the first minute of his first game in Scotland saw him tumble to earth twice as he struggled to cope with the glutinous Hawick pitch.

"I had to change my spikes," he said afterwards, a choice of terminology that said rather a lot about the depth of his rugby knowledge.

"They were really short and I was slipping all over the place. Once I got the hang of it and got in the groove I was able to go."

Well, up to a point. In the first half Isles carried the ball twice.

On the first occasion he made about six inches of progress. On the second, he managed a whole two yards, both of them sideways.

For those in the Mansfield Park crowd who had been drawn to the game by Isles' celebrated YouTube try-scoring expoits - one clip has had more than five million hits - his modest contribution to events was something of a disappointment.

But then so was that of many other players in a period of thud-and-blunder rugby.

"He's no' seen much o' the ba'," said Jim Renwick, one of the more knowledgeable observers in the stand, "but that's no' his fault.

"He gets stuck in well enough and he tackles pretty well."

That was probably the most surprising aspect of Isles' display. As a 10.2sec sprinter his raw pace was never in doubt, but you would fear for the durability of a player who stands only 5ft 8in and weighs just over 11st.

Yet when the biggest bruisers in the Hawick pack rumbled forward with the ball, Isles - on trial with Glasgow until the end of the season - had no apparent concern for his own safety as he threw himself selflessly, if not always effectively, in their paths.

Almost 15 minutes into the second half, the chance came for Isles to shine as a looping pass, only his second or third of the game, fell into his hands as he stood near the left touchline, just inside the Hawick 22. Suddenly, we found out what all the fuss was about.

A phalanx of Hawick players, about four or five in number, stood between Isles and the try line, but he scorched past, round and through the lot of them and raced behind the posts.

It was a brilliant score - or would have been had he actually touched the ball down.

For in that critical act, Isles came up a little short.

The video evidence afterwards was not exactly conclusive, but there was sufficient scope for doubt in the footage to justify referee Gary Gordon chalking the try off.

Gordon's assessment was that Isles had dropped the ball at the last moment, so no score.

Fortunately for Ayr, it was not a critical error and they girded themselves over the 25 minutes they had left to pull away for a deserved - if quite meaningless in the RBS Premiership context - 21-15 win.

Prop Steve Fenwick, who might lack a yard or two of Isles' pace, lumbered over for two tries, with Craig Gossman adding a third with 10 minutes left on the clock.

And Isles assessment of his first 80-minute game of 15-a-side rugby? "Oh man, it was long," he beamed. "Longer than sevens. But it was fun."

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