Did you try that?
The /r modifier (Perl 5.14) only solves one of the problems (it doesn't alter the original). It doesn't solve the second problem that the $_ =~ s/a/X/gr construct is not being evaluated in list context, and therefore returns the number of substitution matches, not the modified string.
Apparently I didn't. ;) -- lousy excuse in a followup node below.
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