The Guinness Premiership has suffered from an exodus of players heading for the bright lights and big wages of the French Top 14 league, including the world’s best tight-head prop Carl Hayman, who opted to leave Newcastle for Toulon this week.
At the same time, Premiership clubs have slumped to their worst Heineken Cup performance for 13 years with Northampton the only English side to reach the last eight.
Premier Rugby is to review the £4m salary cap for the start of the 2011-12 campaign, but Tigers chief Wheeler believes it should be made a priority in order to avoid another season of mediocrity.
“The worry is that it is not just Leicester who are affected but that the standards in the Guinness Premiership might go down,” Wheeler said. “We don’t want the league to become stagnant and see the world class players from Europe, or those who come into European rugby, going to the Top 14 or the Magners League.”
The introduction of Elite Player Squads (EPS) payments to clubs who provide players for England has eased the burden somewhat, but Wheeler insists it is not the answer.
“We get money for producing international players but are not allowed to spend it on the playing side because of the salary cap,” he said. “Wages are going up but the wage cap will be the same for the second or third year running. Squads are reducing in size and that makes any injuries even harder to deal with, especially if you have players away on international duty. The ambition of our league has to be the best professional league in world rugby and it won’t be if that happens.”