WHEN Caldy's team bus rolled into Otley RUFC's car park at 12.30pm, there was a large sticker at the top of the driver's window which read: Simply The Best.

No-one at Cross Green was going to argue with that in National League Two North terms after the runaway leaders defeated the hosts 31-12 to send them into a relegation berth for the first time this season in meaningful terms.

Beaten by a team recording their 20th win from as many attempts, the Cross Greeners have been overtaken by Luctonians, who climbed two places on the back of a 27-7 home win over Sheffield Tigers.

However, it is very congested in the lower half of the table, with only nine points separating seven clubs - from Sheffield Tigers in eighth to Otley in the highest of the three relegation berths in 14th.

But crucially Otley, who have five games at home from their remaining nine fixtures, still have to host Luctonians (February 15), Sheffield Tigers (March 7), whipping boys Scunthorpe (played 20, lost 20 so far, April 4) and derby rivals Wharfedale (10th on 49 points) on April 25 and have yet to visit next-to-bottom Preston Grasshoppers (April 18).

While Charlie Maunder's team would undoubtedly prefer to wrap up their safety before facing Wharfedale in their last game of the season, Otley's performance against slick-passing Caldy was undoubtedly the template for survival in terms of effort.

Otley's rugby chairman Peter Clegg is certainly confident as long as his team apply themselves, and said: "There is no problem in us pulling out of the dogfight.

"With the squad that we have to come back we will get stronger and stronger every week, and if the players who are coming back buy into what we did here in terms of effort and commitment - I was 100 per cent impressed with everyone - we will win games that will keep us in the league.

"We know that we have the rub of the green with fixtures left but you still have to beat these teams."

Otley managed one try in each half from wingers Josh Hall (32 minutes) and Owen Dudman (last minute), and Clegg added: "It is a testament to our side that we scored a try in the 80th minute.

"We never give up and we will play sides that are not as good as Caldy and as long as we play with that passion and commitment it is good for Otley.

"We have almost a full side out or a full side out injured, say 13, 14, 15 players, although people keep coming in and dropping out.

"We haven't got a big squad and we have long-term injuries like Jack Mackie, who is out for the season after a shoulder operation. We have three or four like that, and we have lads who will be out for three or four weeks, but that is rugby.

"When you are in a dogfight with 10 games left, you have to try and get something from every game that you play, but we know where we are and we know where we want to be.

"However, this was not a team that we were expected to beat and it was the performance that we wanted and I was proud of what they did."

As for the leaders, who are 17 points ahead of second-placed Fylde with a game in hand, Clegg said: "Caldy are a good side, they have a good squad, they are well organised, they performed well and you cannot take anything away from them."

Otley had plenty of possession early on without always being able to penetrate, and Caldy were the first to threaten a try in the sixth minute with a confident attack down the right involving wingers Nick Royle and Ben Jones, full back Rhys Hayes and fly half Lewis Barker.

Jones was over five minutes later, however, on the opposite flank as the men from the Wirral, whose players were nearly always in the right positions, showed their ability to pass crisply at close quarters without knocking on.

Scrum half Jacob Ainscough and Royle added further first-half tries, with centre Gavin Roberts improving Ainscough's try, although Jones had to hold the ball for each conversion so strong was the strengthening wind.

Otley got on the board via Hall's try after lengthy pressure, with the attack involving centre Gavin Stead and hooker Ben Steele.

Stead's conversion reduced the deficit to 17-7 and a lot seemed to hinge on which side would score the opening try in the second half as Caldy were denied a fourth try before the interval, with the stanza ending with a brawl that led referee Dan Woods to speak to skippers Brett Mitchell (Otley) and Josiah Dickinson.

As it happened the latter got the next try to cap significant pressure, with Roberts converting both that and the subsequent try by Hayes after more good continuity.

All that remained to be seen was whether Otley could get a consolation try.

Replacement Freddie Watson raised hopes with an interception and centre Elliot Morgan and full back Ben Magee were always threats from distance but it was not until the final minute that Dudman went over.