Sir Ian McGeechan says Saints duo Dylan Hartley and Lee Dickson ‘intimidated’ referee Craig Maxwell-Keys during Friday night’s win against Wasps.
And he has also criticised the home fans at Franklin’s Gardens for having an impact on the official, who was taking charge of just his third Aviva Premiership game.
The referee had attracted some cries of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ during the first half of the game, with supporters unhappy with some of his decisions.
Hartley and Dickson also sought some reassurance from the official during the game, but McGeechan, who was director of rugby at Saints for five years during the 1990s, felt those men had gone too far.
“I was left with a rather unpleasant after-taste because of the way in which some of their players behaved towards Craig Maxwell-Keys, the young and inexperienced referee,” McGeechan wrote in his column in The Telegraph.
“Players such as Dylan Hartley and Lee Dickson intimidated him, which is not something I like to see. Maxwell-Keys should really have penalised them for their behaviour.”
But McGeechan did question whether it was wise to throw Maxwell-Keys into such a high-profile game so early in his refereeing career.
He added: “I am not sure Maxwell-Keys should have been refereeing that game, though, at such an early stage of his career.
“You have to be careful how you bring on young referees and to throw him into such a feisty match at Franklin’s Gardens – it was always going to be feisty – was unwise.
“I am sure the referee educators will have him mentored by a senior referee. Sitting down with somebody like Wayne Barnes would be very beneficial.
Players such as Dylan Hartley and Lee Dickson intimidated him (the referee), which is not something I like to seeFormer Saints and British & Irish Lions coach Sir Ian McGeechan
“The issue was not Maxwell-Keys’ refereeing of the laws nor his interpretation of them, but rather his game and player management.
“He probably needed Barnes running touch to share advice throughout the game. That is the best way to learn.”
In the 35th minute of the match, Maxwell-Keys took the decision to dismiss Nathan Hughes for an incident that saw the knee of the Wasps No.8 knock out George North after the Saints wing had scored his second try.
The concussed North underwent treatment for around 10 minutes, during which time the referee asked for help from the TMO, Keith Lewis, and opted to red card the Wasps player.
Saints boss Jim Mallinder felt it was the right decision, while Wasps director of rugby Dai Young described it as ‘harsh’.
And McGeechan has sided with Young, questioning the role of the TMO and the Saints supporters in the referee’s choice.
“It was totally the wrong decision, in my view, as the clash was accidental,” said the former British & Irish Lions coach. “Hughes could not stop himself as he covered across and North turned his head as he scored. Hughes was trying to slow down and pull out of it, I thought.
“I think the Television Match Official knew that it was the wrong decision to send Hughes off and told Maxwell-Keys to look at it again in real time – because slow-motion replays make such incidents look worse than they actually were – but the TMO could not tell him to change his decision.
“I really think the intimidation – from the home crowd as well as the players – got to the referee at this point.”