Owen Farrell gets better of England team-mate Marcus Smith before injury strikes
Owen Farrell came out on top in his duel with Marcus Smith at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium but the afternoon ended in personal disappointment for England’s captain when he limped off in obvious pain.
Saracens dispatched London rivals Harlequins 36-24 to guarantee a home tie in the Gallagher Premiership play-offs with the Farrell versus Smith showdown used to market the game delivering in a pulsating clash.
The rivals for England’s 10 jersey each had their moments with Smith taking centre stage in the second half as he attempted – with some success – to inspire a comeback that was given momentum by two tries from Cadan Murley.
Farrell had the benefit of playing behind the stronger pack with Saracens bossing the breakdown, but his match was over in the 70th minute when his left ankle rolled while making a tackle close to Saracens’ posts.
Billy Vunipola took man of the match honours and he put England’s number eight for the Six Nations Alex Dombrandt in the shade in front of 55,109 fans in north London.
Inside 90 seconds Dombrandt peeled himself off the floor having been hammered backwards catching the kick-off and sold a dummy to score the opening try as Quins capitalised on a turnover.
The tide quickly turned as Saracens hammered away using their pack and the breakthrough came when Ben Earl offloaded for Alex Lozowski to score under the posts.
Lozowski played a key role in his side’s second try with Farrell also heavily involved as Nick Tompkins went over, finishing some slick interchange made possible by the forwards getting on top once more.
Danny Care was sin-binned for interfering at the ruck and once Farrell had kicked the penalty Saracens led 17-7.
Smith filled in for Care at scrum-half and in an unexpected twist Quins seized control by keeping play tight, at least until they attempted an ill-advised offload under the posts to invite a high speed counter-attack from Max Malins.
Andre Esterhuizen skittled Farrell backwards but a promising attack broke down and Saracens’ response was ruthless with Vunipola and Malins involved before Lozowski and Tompkins combined to send Andy Christie over.
Knowing they were in danger of being swept away, Quins responded soon after the break when a long flat pass enabled Murley to ride a tackle from Malins and touch down.
A spell of sustained Saracens pressure ended with Christie cleverly passing out of the tackle as Sean Maitland clinched the bonus point, seemly ending the visitors’ uprising.
But Quins refused to throw in the towel and when Esterhuizen threw a long pass to Murley the wing had the strength to run over Malins and score, once again exposing his opposite number’s vulnerability in defence.
Centre Luke Northmore was sent to the sin-bin for catching Farrell in the throat as he tried to charge down a kick and in the next play Saracens drove over through their line-out in a try for Maro Itoje.
A brilliant finish by Joe Marchant kept Quins in the hunt but the hosts finished strongly to complete an emphatic win that sealed their place at the summit of the Premiership.