SAM BURGESS has left Bath with immediate effect, according to reports on Thursday afternoon
Dual-code international Burgess is set to head back to rugby league after completing only one year of a three-year deal at the Recreation Ground.
The news comes less than 24 hours after Bath owner Bruce Craig stated that Burgess, who played for England at the rugby union World Cup, would be seeing out the remainder of his contract.
Burgess was selected as an inside centre for England at the World Cup, having played predominantly at flanker for Bath, and received criticism for his performances as Stuart Lancaster’s side crashed out in the group stage.
Burgess has been strongly linked with a return to the South Sydney Rabbitohs - the club he left for union 12 months ago - while Super League champions Leeds Rhinos also declared an interest.
For the past two days Craig and Bath head coach Mike Ford have declared Burgess would see out the remainder of his contract and that the club had received no approaches for him.
“Sam is with us for the next two years and is under contract,” said Craig on Wednesday, answering “no” when asked if Burgess had asked to leave.
“No one has come in for Sam. At the moment he’s with us and is in our Champions Cup squad. We’re not in negotiations with anyone. Leeds haven’t been in contact with me.
“It’s resolved at the moment. Sam is contracted with us. As far we’re concerned he’s with us and will continue playing for us.”
Ford even stated that Burgess, who was known to be seeking a return to league, had been picked on the bench for Saturday’s Aviva Premiership clash with London Irish.
If Burgess leaves union he will be considered among the biggest cross-code flops in history with the only doubt resting over who is most to blame for his inglorious departure - England, Bath or the player himself.
The 26-year-old started the loss to Wales and made replacement appearances against Fiji and Australia as England’s ill-fated World Cup unravelled spectacularly, ending in failure to progress from the group stage for the first time.
He was used as an inside centre, although he played his best rugby last season at blindside flanker - the position where Bath have been adamant that his union future lies.
Upon completion of England 2015, he came off the bench in the Premiership opener against Exeter before Ford decided he was jaded and so gave him time off to gather his thoughts.
He returned to training on Monday, but by Thursday it was reported he had sent text messages to team-mates to say he was leaving.
England will be blamed for fast-tracking him into their World Cup squad when he was not ready, unsettling their team environment in the process, and Bath were frustrated he was unable to spend the summer learning his trade at the Recreation Ground.
The club wasted little time in promoting a player reported to command an annual salary of £500,000, starting him at inside centre amid great fanfare before moving him into the back row.
And for a man who repeatedly stated during the World Cup that he was determined to succeed and impervious to criticism, his departure after a mere 12 months is surprising.
As reports of his departure began to leak out, former England centre Will Greenwood tweeted: “Am I hearing @SamBurgess8 has left Bath? If so rugby union has let the lad down..”
Another ex-England back, Ugo Monye, wrote: “Sam Burgess gone with immediate effect... Could’ve been a top player with TIME - just needed TIME!”