ENCOUNTERS between local rivals Otley and Wharfedale are always enough to get the blood stirring in North Yorkshire, but tomorrow's meeting takes on added significance.
For the two clubs are currently locked in a downward spiral toward the National One exit door and meet at Cross Green with more than just local pride at stake.
Hosts Otley have won only once in the last seven games and are perched perilously one place and four points above the bottom three.
Wharfedale have lost their last five and have tumbled to sixth bottom, three points above Otley – who they defeated in the second game of the season – and seven clear of Cinderford, who currently occupy the final relegation place.
Yet the two men charged with keeping the clubs in the third tier and out of the regionalised fourth rung of the ladder, are refusing to panic.
Relegation battles have been commonplace at Otley over the last three years, and after playing their way out of a second successive demotion last year, director of rugby Gary Walker intends to do exactly the same again this year.
Tommy McGee, meanwhile, may be only a few months into his coaching career, but the determined Scot believes he has already identified the key area his side need to improve on to orchestrate a move in the right direction. "We've just got to find that little thing we're missing in that 10 to 15-minute period at the start of the second half, because in every game we have been competitive and by half-time we're either in front, or very close," said the former Leeds Carnegie prop.
"We are trying to emphasise that area. It's a combination of things; losing territory, conceding soft tries, allowing too many penalties.
"It's a mental issue and the lads have got it into their heads that if they make a mistake they will be punished.
"What I'm saying to the guys is go out and score first in the second half, not by forcing play but by playing intelligently.
"Yes we have hit a streak of games where we are not getting the results we want. But we are getting better in certain aspects of the game. We are improving all the time and it's just about turning that into wins.
"I'm not overly concerned about it because it will come, and hopefully soon.
"Our second half of the season will be a real target for us. We are not where we want to be but are focussing on what we can do to get away from there, rather than how we got there in the first place."
Walker's side have won only three of their 14 games – crucially all against the bottom three teams and at home – yet have picked up bonus points in eight of their 11 defeats.
"That statistic shows we haven't been playing poorly," said Walker. "The margins are very small. We are creating chances and scoring tries.
"There will be no changing of the way we play. We play a 15-man game and all our coaching is based around increasing the skill level of our players.
"We are confident we will get the points we need by sticking to those principles. We did it last year and we will do so again.
"We know that if we score four tries, they will have to be very good to beat us."
The poor form of both White Rose clubs draws varying responses with Walker citing the money at the top end of the division and McGee the change in coaching set-up at a club that finished sixth last year and won the Yorkshire Cup.
Walker said: "Both clubs have budgets in place that are among the lowest in the division. Unlike the last few years where there were struggling teams like Manchester and to a certain extent Nuneaton, the teams that have come up are all excellent sides.
"Barking can afford players dropping out of the Premiership and have gone straight to the top of the league in their first season in the division.
"At Otley we place our faith in a lot of young players who we develop and we don't have any worries for the future.
"We believe we have the skill levels to compete, the question is can we do it consistently?"
McGee added: "We have got a lot of good clubs in Yorkshire playing at a high level, as I expect them to be doing next season.
"At Wharfedale we have had our fair share of injuries, but I don't want to use that as an excuse.
"We have played all the top teams away, and they're long journeys, but ultimately our
performances were not good enough.
"This is my first year at Wharfedale. It takes time to get players on your wavelength. These things don't happen overnight and those are the challenges we have to deal with."
Both are expecting a full-blooded derby match with McGee
calling on his players to channel their emotions into the right areas. Walker, whose side bossed territory and created the better chances in a 17-13 defeat at Threshfields in September, has asked his players to be wise to Wharfedale's strength in the contact area.
Otley welcome back lock Dominic Barrow, centre Ben Hough and full-back Jimmy Keinhorst while McGee has recalled hooker Steve Graham and flanker David Hughes.