Owen Farrell vs Marcus Smith: Narrow winner in battle of the No 10s
All eyes were on the two England fly-halves Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith in Saracens' clash with Harlequins at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. It was billed as 'The Showdown', with each player starting one of England's last two Test matches, against France and Ireland.
Telegraph Sport analyses how the two No 10s performed in their first action since the Six Nations.
Smith shone at times, including an excellent assist for Cadan Murley's try to go with some clever changes of direction which kept Saracens' defence guessing. But not everything came off, with passes to Alex Dombrandt and Luke Northmore going to ground faced with defensive pressure from Saracens, while one sidestep and poor pass killed a Harlequins attack towards the end of the first half.
"All the good stuff in attack, he was at the centre of that," McCall said post-match of Farrell, which was a fair reflection of his influence. Nick Tompkins' try stemmed from Farrell's well-timed pass to Alex Lozowski, who then offloaded off the deck, and it was Farrell's offload despite plenty of attention from Harlequins' defence which led to Sean Maitland's score.
One comical passage, as Farrell held his hands out asking "what was that" as a pass went past him straight to ground, even resulted in a try for Andy Christie, which was greeted by Farrell with a thumbs up.
Early statistics showed that Smith missed no tackles and Farrell missed four, although those are preliminary and the debate about what counts statistically as a "missed tackle" is ongoing.
It's fair to say both fly-halves had their hands full, with Andre Esterhuizen at one point sending Farrell stumbling backwards while Smith was left hanging on Nick Tompkins' ankles but did enough to haul him down.
Where Farrell did excel was through turnovers, producing two timely players in defence including one jackal on Esterhuizen with Harlequins applying pressure in Saracens' 22, followed by another effort later on with a rip in a tackle.
"He had some really great interventions defensively," McCall said.
Smith's short-range kicking game is one the strongest areas of his game but there were only a handful here, with one particularly dangerous grubber kick after cutting back across the field pinning Saracens right back towards the corner.
His cameo at scrum-half after Danny Care was sin-binned - Tabai Matson, Harlequins head coach, revealed that during training this week Smith had volunteered to fill in there if needed, "cursing him a little bit" - featured one threatening cross-field kick picking up from the base which Joe Marchant claimed well in the air.
While Smith's up-and-unders are often overlooked he had one in particular which tested Alex Goode with Nick David in pursuit.
In terms of goalkicking both players missed conversions but also landed kicks well from the touchline, such as Smith's for Murley's first try. However, Farrell had the better accuracy, with five out of seven kicks converted including a penalty while Smith finished with two from four.
It's perhaps a measure of Saracens' new attacking approach too that both sides finished with roughly the same amount of kicks from hand, 24 to Saracens to 23 from Harlequins.
In the end, Farrell’s impact in defence with those turnovers combined with making fewer errors in attack gave him the edge over Smith.
Farrell 23-21 Smith