The once shipshape Bristol looked to have hauled themselves clear of the rocks before setting out on the voyage back into Allied Dunbar Premiership One. Burke had been earmarked for the captaincy and his skills and nous were regarded as essential if Bristol were to bounce straight back into the top flight.
However, a decision to offer the players contracts only until Christmas - effectively putting them on a four-month trial - persuaded Burke to go.
Burke, who has scored 103 points in 10 international appearances, said: "I feel let down. I had kept Bristol fully informed about the situation with Cardiff, but I was told the club were not in a position to offer me anything other than a four-month, holding contract. That did not give me enough security and I wasn't happy about it.
"The enthusiasm Cardiff showed in contrast to Bristol's attitude made my decision very easy. Cardiff are a very big club and want to do well in the British League when it comes about. It doesn't bother me that I will be playing friendlies this season."
Burke, who joined Bristol two years ago after spells with Cork Constitution and London Irish, will be in contention for the fly-half berth with Lee Jarvis, but could well feature in the opening friendly of the season at Bedford on Saturday.
Burke's departure leaves Bristol with no recognised goal-kicker and it is expected that the veteran Paul Hull will move up to half-back and take responsibility for the kicking.
Bob Dwyer, Bristol's new director of rugby, has now seen a third of last year's side - including the Irish internationals David Corkery and Kevin Maggs, as well as the wing David Tiueti - quit the Memorial Ground.
It is an unhappy time for another Burke, Australia's fullback Matt. He expects to be out of action for at least seven months after dislocating his shoulder when scoring the winning try during last Saturday's Bledisloe Cup victory over New Zealand. A specialist has told Burke that his right shoulder will need complete reconstruction.
The deadlock between Twickenham and the First Division clubs over the proposed scheduling of the Anglo-Welsh friendlies is expected to be resolved at tomorrow's meeting of the Rugby Football Union's management board. Swansea are to go ahead with Saturday's friendly against West Hartlepool despite being told not to do so by the Welsh Rugby Union.
The South African RFU has appointed Silas Nkanunu as its first black president. The 65-year-old lawyer and former Sarfu vice-president was the only nominee for the post vacated by the controversial Louis Luyt in May.Reuse content