Rugby Union: BBC muzzles Neath rugby debate: Tim Glover reports on an unfortunate epilogue to the physical treatment experienced by the Wallabies in Wales

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AS THE former Wales international forwards, Eddie Butler and Brian Thomas, had a healthy argument in a television studio, the discussion that should have been aired between the two was taken off the air.

Butler, the former Cambridge University, Pontypool and Wales No 8, had criticised Neath, in his capacity as rugby correspondent of the Observer and also as a commentator for the BBC. Butler made his comments in the wake of Neath's game against Australia at The Gnoll after which Bob Dwyer, the Wallabies coach, remarked that Neath was the 'bag-snatching capital of Wales'.

For bag-snatching, in Sydney vernacular, read 'testicle-grabbing'. Butler endorsed the Australian view and on Sunday gave Thomas, another former Cambridge Blue, the right of reply on the rugby programme on BBC Wales.

Thomas, the manager of Neath, turned up at the Cardiff studios with Leighton Davies, the Neath coach, and Steve Flower. Eight years ago Flower, a forward for Neath, was thumped by Butler in a match against Pontypool. Flower, a policeman, was taken to hospital.

He has since had an operation on a brain tumour and is still receiving treatment. On Sunday, accompanied by his father, Flower arrived at the television studios, his scalp half-shaven.

The confrontation between Thomas and Butler should have gone out live. Then the BBC decided they would pre-record the item at 4.15pm. Then they decided they would not show it at all.

Thomas and Butler went face- to-face off camera instead of on. A line of Butler's criticism was that Neath were about as effective at selling rugby as people on Bondi Beach selling surfing to the Eskimos.

'I was supposed to do an opinion piece in the wake of the Neath- Australia match,' Butler said. 'My overall impression was that Neath were a disgrace. Dwyer put all the blame on Neath and I agreed with him. I thought it not entirely fair that Neath should not get a right of reply. I thought that Brian plus two people would arrive at the studio but seven turned up.'

When Butler met Flower at the television studios on Sunday he apologised. 'I apologised for what I did eight years ago,' Butler said. 'I wasn't proud of it then and I'm not proud of it now.' However, Butler believed that Flower 'should not have been brought to the studios as part of Thomas's defence of Neath'. Butler was wary of being charged with hypocrisy. Thomas said: 'Neath didn't start anything against Australia. If anybody makes accusations they should have pure hands.'