England centre Sam Burgess leaves Bath and is expected to quit Rugby Union
England centre Sam Burgess has left Bath with immediate effect.
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.
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!"
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 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 on Saturday.
If, as the reports state, 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.
Bath have yet to respond to requests to comment about the situation.
Meanwhile, England rugby league coach Steve McNamara told talkSPORT: "I don't think anything has been confirmed yet but I always felt he would come back to rugby league eventually. I would be very surprised if he doesn't go back to South Sydney.
"He has gone from never playing rugby union in his life to being picked by England. He deserves a lot of credit.
"Sam is very thick skinned. He will have been aware of some of the comments made about him. I don't think the criticism Sam has received will have put him off.
Asked if had considered including Burgess in his England rugby league squad for the current series against New Zealand amid speculation that a return to Rugby League was imminent, McNamara replied: "Sam was never a consideration for this series. Right up until this day, when we found out he was coming back to rugby league, he was playing in rugby union.
"But he will be a great addition for us going forwards. We know the quality of him."
Gary Hetherington, chief executive of Super League champions Leeds, conceded defeat to South Sydney in the battle for the former Bradford prop after being unable to agree a transfer fee with Bath.
It is thought Bath were hoping to receive £750,000 - far above the amount they were believed to have paid to Souths for him just over 12 months ago - to release the player from the two years left on his contract.
"We made our interest known and were ready to proceed had we been given the encouragement but it's fair to say Souths were always favourites as long as they could include him in their salary cap for 2016," said Hetherington.
"To be honest, we never made an offer but were holding a watching brief."
Former South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson arrived in the UK last weekend on International Federation business but expressed a willingness to help his old club buy back their popular former player.