England rugby union international Sam Burgess has left Premiership club Bath with immediate effect in order to return to rugby league side South Sydney Rabbitohs, the BBC reports.
The 26-year-old Burgess had two years left on a three-year deal with west country side Bath.
Burgess was a member of the England squad that recently became the first World Cup host nation to exit the tournament in the group stages, with coach Stuart Lancaster criticised for what many saw as the overly rapid promotion of the Bath man into the Test side.
It was only last year, after helping South Sydney win the Australian NRL Grand Final, that Burgess changed codes with the express ambition of playing for England at the World Cup.
If confirmed, the end of his brief spell in union is likely to prove highly embarrassing for both Bath and Lancaster, whose position as England coach is currently being scrutinised as part of a Rugby Football Union review into the team’s woeful World Cup campaign.
Thursday’s BBC report came less than 24 hours after Bath owner Bruce Craig said Burgess would be seeing out the remainder of his contract.
“Sam is with us for the next two years and is under contract,” said Craig, who answered “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 (European) Champions Cup squad. We’re not in negotiations with anyone.”
Only last week, Bath coach Mike Ford – himself a former rugby league player – was equally adamant Burgess would stay at the Recreation Ground.
“There are no dramas here,” said Ford. “Everyone has put two and two together, seen him sitting next to (England rugby league coach) Steve McNamara watching his brother play rugby league.”
Burgess’s selection for the England rugby union side was all the more controversial as despite Bath’s preference for playing him as a flank forward, Lancaster deployed him in the back-line position of inside centre.
His inclusion meant far more experienced centre Luther Burrell missed out on a place in the England squad – a decision that reportedly unsettled a number of England players who felt such a ‘hunch’ pick was completely at odds with the way in which Lancaster had selected the side during his three years in charge.
Burgess, who only won the first of his five England caps in a World Cup warm-up in August, made three appearances during the tournament proper, but only one start, and failed to make much of an impression
Veteran Ireland centre Gordon D’Arcy produced a withering critique of his displays in an Irish Times column, accusing Burgess of embarrassing his team-mates and saying he “doesn’t know how to play inside centre”.
Last month, after leaving Burgess out of his matchday 23 for England’s final and ‘dead’ World Cup pool match against Uruguay, Lancaster said: “I’ve not had any conversations with him about a move to rugby league at all … My last conversation with him was about him going back to Bath.”