Owen Farrell emerged victorious in his duel with Marcus Smith at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but the evening ended in personal disappointment for the England captain when he limped 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 matchup used to market the game in a heart-pounding clash.
Each of England’s tenth-shirt rivals had their moments with Smith taking center stage in the second half as he tried, with some success, to inspire a comeback that was prompted by two tries from Cadan Murley.
Farrell had the advantage of playing behind the stronger group with Saracens dominating the attack, but their match ended on 70 minutes when his left ankle sprained while making a tackle near Saracens’s posts.
Billy Vunipola took man of the match honors and shadowed England’s number eight for the Six Nations Alex Dombrandt in front of 55,109 fans in north London.
Within 90 seconds, Dombrandt came off the ground after being knocked back to catch the kickoff and sold a dummy to score the first down when Quins capitalized on a turnover.
The tide turned quickly as Saracens struck with their pack and the breakthrough came as Ben Earl unloaded 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 left, finishing off a clever exchange made possible by the forwards putting themselves on top once again.
Danny Care was penalized for interfering with the ruck and once Farrell kicked the penalty Saracens led 17-7.
Smith replaced Care at the scrum-half and, in an unexpected twist, Quins took control by keeping the game tight, at least until they attempted an ill-advised volley under the posts to invite a high-speed counter-attack from Max Malins.
Andre Esterhuizen dropped Farrell back, but a promising attack broke up and Saracens’ response was merciless with Vunipola and Malins involved before Lozowski and Tompkins combined to send out Andy Christie.
Knowing they were in danger of being swept, Quins responded shortly after half-time when a long, flat pass allowed Murley to take advantage of a Malins tackle and score.
A run of sustained pressure from Saracens ended with Christie deftly passing outside the tackle as Sean Maitland secured the bonus point, ending the visitors’ uprising.
But Quins refused to throw in the towel and when Esterhuizen flicked a long pass to Murley, the full-back had the strength to run past Malins and score, once again exposing his counterpart’s vulnerability in defence.
Center Luke Northmore was sent to the sin-bin for catching Farrell in the throat as he attempted to kick and on the next play Saracens blasted through their line-out in a try for Maro Itoje.
A brilliant finish from Joe Marchant kept Quins in the hunt, but the hosts finished strongly to complete a thumping victory that sealed their place at the top of the Premiership.