Sale Sharks boss Alex Sanderson admitted his side had an off-day as the high-flyers lost 29-13 at home against Harlequins at the weekend.

Marcus Smith’s England experience saw the red-hot Quins fly-half rack up 24 of Quins’ 29 points at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Quins struck the first blow as winger Nick David capitalised on a tidy kick from Smith to dot down in the corner.

The visitors’ number 10 slotted a difficult kick to open his account for the day but Sale were soon level when Sam James surged through to cross under the posts.

Sanderson’s side were then ahead thanks to a Rob du Preez penalty but it was Quins who went into the break ahead after that man Smith capped a fluent move to score his side’s second try.

Sale rallied throughout the second period but four more penalties from Smith ensured Quins claimed their third win of the season and inflicted a first defeat of the Premiership season on Sanderson’s high-flying Sharks.

The Sale coach said: “There’s not really that much more we need to do to create the chances, but we just need to finish them off.

“Our set-pieces need to be better too, so of course it’s been disappointing.

“It’s clear our decision-making in attack needs to be much better.

“Couple that with more discipline in defence and not giving away as many penalty points, and that’s what went wrong I think today.

“We just gave Quins too many points.

“So far this season we’ve been operating with unflappable calmness in our play, but we didn’t see that today.

“I’ve just said to the lads that that has to be the exception there, not the norm.

“We’ll have to get back on the horse.”

Quins coach Tabai Matson hopes Smith’s increasing international pedigree can spearhead a title challenge for his team.

He said: “Every time he goes away with England he seems to come back a better player, and that’s fantastic for us.

“He set a terrific example again today.

“He measures the tempo and keeps control, and he keeps the scoreboard ticking over.

“To have 100 Premiership appearances under his belt at just 23 years of age is just ridiculous.

“He’s a great young player and he’s going to break lots of records.

“This is a great result for our club - Sale has been a notoriously tough place for us to come over the years but we’ve dug deep today and got the result.

“We squeezed them at crucial points and though it wasn’t classic Quins rugby, we stopped a lot of Sale’s momentum at crucial times.”