'WE'VE just got to dig in' is Ilkley head of rugby Rhys Morgan's defiant message as his side face an uphill task to survive relegation during the second half of the season.

The Dalesmen finished 2019 with a heavy 41-7 defeat at Kirkby Lonsdale last weekend to leave them rock bottom in the North Premier, 12 points adrift of second-from-bottom Alnwick.

Survival looks a tall task for Ilkley after just one win from their opening 13 league games, leaving them with a hefty -247 points difference. This is especially difficult as the bottom three will be relegated to North One East, with Ilkley currently 17 points adrift of fourth-from-bottom Rossendale.

Despite this huge deficit, Morgan says the mood in the Ilkley camp remains high and hopes their team spirit may see them shock a few teams during the second half of the season in 2020.

They now have a two-week break from action and will return when they host ninth-placed Carlisle on Saturday, January 4.

Morgan said: "The atmosphere is fantastic. Everybody is working really, really hard. Morale is not down. We're not a beaten team in that respect. We are in a good place as an amateur club. If we do go down, we will come back. We have a good set-up. We need to come back stronger.

"People have said we have been punching above our weight for a long time. If we go down to North One East, we will see where we are. It is not an easy league.

"We've got to be up and fighting and surprise a few people.

"We've got to dig in. We will keep going.

"I'm honest and I know it's going to be tough for us (to stay up).

"We're never going to give in. We have a chance to rest up over Christmas before the Carlisle game. We will give every game our best shot.

"We will play some attractive rugby and see where we end up. It would have been lovely to pick up a win on Saturday. A lot of the teams in this league are bigger, faster, stronger than us.

"The young players are taking stuff on board."

Morgan added the first half of the season proved difficult with an inexperienced squad featuring a number of teenagers, player departures and injuries to key players.

He said: "It's been a tough one. This year has just been as tough as last year.

"There are some really good lads here, not quite at this league's level yet. They are not mature enough at this level yet. We've had five or six players out.

"We've had nine fantastic years, this one is a tough one. We've got to ride it. You can't let it get you down too much."