Rugby has long been a religion for many New Zealanders. But for those whose religion involves not only men chasing an oval ball, the four-nation Rugby Championship will today cause a Sunday morning crisis of faith.

The All Blacks take on the Pumas in Argentina today, but because of the 15-hour time difference, the game kicks off on New Zealand television at noon. Pre-match coverage starts at 11.30am.

And it's just the start: in the new championship, the All Blacks must play one game in Argentina a year. And if an Argentine franchise eventually join the Super Rugby competition, as has been touted by top rugby officials, more games could clash with Sunday church services.

Christian All Black great Michael Jones, who famously refused to don the black jersey on Sundays, thinks this morning's clash of religions could see some usually devout Christians put rugby first.


"I wouldn't be surprised if some of the faithful leave early or come in late. That's bound to happen," he said. "Each to their own though, I don't want to judge."

His service will be finished before kick-off - fortunate, because Jones said he would never skip church for rugby.

"I think I'll be one of a lot of people racing home after the service though, rather than hanging around talking and having a cup of tea."

Rugby was like a religion for some people, he said.

"I'm not saying that's a bad thing, as long as you've got some balance."

Belmont Baptist Church pastor Nick Burtenshaw has struck a good balance.

Like Jones, and he suspects many of his parishioners, the passionate All Black follower will be making a mad dash for the door after church.

"I have absolutely no doubt that people will make a rapid exit and I will be one of them."

His wife had agreed to host the ritual post-sermon cuppa and chat for the few non-rugby fans. "She's a remarkable woman."

At All Saints Anglican Church, Birkenhead, Rev Diana Court said her congregation loved rugby so much she once relayed scores during a sermon.

"It's part of the social fabric of the church. You have to cater for everyone."

Her sermon will be over by kick-off, but most parishioners were then attending her husband's birthday party.

Rugby fans would still be catered for and, if necessary, "we could grab the food and adjourn to the vicarage to watch it".

University of Auckland School of Theology Professor Elaine Wainwright doubted the clash would worry regular churchgoers, who would find another way to see the game.

She agreed rugby could be seen as a religion because of the way it brought people together.

"There's a commitment to it. So in that sense it does function like a religious tradition."