Freddie Burns, as open and honest as any England player of his generation, admits it: the loneliness of the long-running transfer saga made his life a misery. The most creative attacking No 10 in the country will leave Gloucester in May – while his destination has yet to be confirmed, there is no obvious reason to think it will not be Leicester – but that is only half the story. The other half is as bleak as it gets: a cautionary tale of a brilliant talent who said too much at the wrong time and saw the bottom fall out of his game as a consequence.
"I've learnt masses about myself over the last couple of months – this is the toughest time I've had as regards not playing well," admitted the 23-year-old, who will resume his red-rose career with the second-string Saxons at Kingsholm this weekend. "I had a decision to make about staying or leaving and I do wish I'd handled it slightly differently, in terms of not saying anything and focusing on my rugby. But it's happened now. I'll be a better player and a better person because of it."
Burns mentioned before Christmas that he was considering his future at Gloucester and from the moment he went public, the issue of his future employment took on a life of its own. The Cherry and White hierarchy quickly grew tired of the subject – and even more tired of waiting for him to agree a contract extension. They withdrew their offer after weeks of speculation and confirmed a parting of the ways earlier this month.
Left out of England's 35-man squad for the forthcoming Six Nations but still in the Elite Player Squad and therefore a live candidate for the three-Test series against New Zealand in the summer, Burns openly acknowledged that recent distractions had messed with his head. "Gloucester have given me everything and I still 'um' and 'ah' about the decision, but I had to do what was right for my career – go to where I think I'll become the best player I can be," he said.
"I had a lot of advice, but it got to the point where I probably spoke to too many people. So I shut myself away in my flat and hardly spoke to anyone. I would train and go straight home; my parents would call and I'd brush them off. I spent two weeks on my own, trying to hammer out a decision. It took six weeks, if not longer, to reach that decision: I just wanted to wake up one morning and find the penny had dropped."
Talking of pennies, the Premiership top brass have confirmed that the salary cap, the mechanism that has established England's domestic league as the most competitive in the world game, will rise by around £500,000 to £5m per club from the start of next season. There will also be a more transparent monitoring system.