The sun was shining at Mansfield Park on Saturday afternoon as Hawick and Ayr squared up in the fourth round of the BT Premiership, with the visitors emerging as 43-28 winners.
All eyes were on Glasgow Warriors' and Scotland's Finn Russell as he made his competitive return from injury, and at times, there seemed to be more cameras and long lenses - not to mention present and future Scotland coaches - than fans in the stand.
There has never been any love lost between the tough Borderers in green and the men in pink and black, and there was tension from the off. The home side fed off it and made an excellent start, slippery winger Darcy Graham eluding the tackles, despite the best efforts of Ayr's Russell and Ross Curle.
Full-back Neil Renwick flew in for an exciting try that sent the home crowd into raptures. He converted his own score. 7-0.
The dynamic duo of Graham and Renwick were causing all kinds of problems with their slick passing and speedy footwork, but Ayr's front row of George Hunter, David Young and Steven Longwell brought them to a halt.
Ayr wanted to stretch their legs too, Archie Russell, playing alongside big brother Finn for the first time, and Craig Gossman dancing their way up the wing only to be forced into touch.
Gossman was quickly back in the thick of it, supporting Hunter, scrum-half David Armstrong and full-back Grant Anderson, but handling errors put an end to any scoring hopes.
Set pieces were exchanged and both sides gave away penalties. A small scuffle broke out but Ayr settled at their line-out and Russell the younger, second row Scott Sutherland, Curle, flanker Will Bordill, Russell the elder and winger Danny McCluskey combined seamlessly to send Armstrong scurrying away for a try. But it was disallowed after tempers boiled over and Sutherland was shown a yellow card for foul play.
Hawick couldn't take advantage though, Finn Russell swarming all over them in both attack and defence. Ayr number eight Blair Macpherson was on battering-ram form, and along with Russell and Curle, he bashed his way through the green defence and flanker Gregor Henry propelled himself over the line for a try. Finn Russell converted. 7-7.
You can't keep Hawick down for long, and soon bearded menace Bruce McNeil barrelled over for a try, which Renwick converted. 14-7.
Gossman, Anderson, Armstrong and Hunter were on the look-out for any gap, but Hawick closed them down. A line-out from a penalty allowed Longwell to bulldoze up the pitch, second row Craig Stevenson (on for Rob McAlpine) taking the ball on until Archie Russell zoomed away for a try, converted by his brother. 14-14.
Half-time brought some respite for the fans, who were just as invested in the game. Hawick were straight back into their frenzy of attack as soon as play resumed.
It didn't get them far as Young and Henry closed down any attempts to break free. Soon, Ayr had possession, Bordill blasted through the green shirts and Curle used his balletic feet and his strength to get over in the corner without being dragged into touch. Russell couldn't convert. 14-19.
Archie Russell and McCluskey next had a go, with Anderson chipping a few moments later and getting dangerously close to Hawick's line. The green wall was intact though, at that point anyway, but not when Finn Russell sailed away for a try he converted himself. 14-26.
Armstrong stuck like glue to Hawick's attackers and they failed to swat him aside. If he wasn't ripping the ball from their hands, he was leading the charge. He was in about everything, as was Longwell, who fired into the defence and perfectly popped the ball away to his backs.
Hawick fought hard for a turnover but Curle and Armstrong were upon them, Sutherland and Henry there to back them up in a fraught phase of play that saw possession change hands until Macpherson got the ball and barged over for a try. The conversion was out wide and Russell couldn't make it. 14-31.
Cameron Taylor replaced Curle, who was joined on the bench by Finn Russell, Frazier Climo replacing him.
Hawick composed themselves, flanker Stuart Graham looking fleet of foot and deft of hand. A couple of penalties given away by Ayr gave the home team the opportunity to fight back and it was McNeil who scored. Replacement Kirk Ford took over kicking duties and easily slotted the conversion. 21-31.
Armstrong and Climo tightened Ayr's grip on the game and let their forwards loose. Henry took the ball into the greens' twenty-two and after a few phases, it returned to the backs and Archie Russell got his second try of the match. Climo couldn't convert. 21-36.
Robbie Smith replaced Young at hooker and joined fellow young gun Stevenson in some energetic play. But Ayr were pinged for holding on, although Hawick's kick for the corner landed right in the bread basket for Taylor.
That set Ayr off again, Bordill chipping on into Hawick's half. But crossing stopped their efforts to get to the try-line. A scrum right in front of the posts gave them another opportunity and a lovely pass from Armstrong let Macpherson get his brace. Climo converted. 21-43.
There was still time for Hawick to make a comeback, or so the fans thought; the clock had other ideas. They didn't help themselves by overthrowing at the line-out but it mattered not when they had winger Wesley Hamilton ready to fly over for a consolation try, which Ford converted. 28-43.
Ayr fancied another trip to the Hawick try-line but ended up in touch, bringing a tiring and fractious encounter to an end.
Final score: Hawick 28 Ayr 43.
- Elena Hogarth.