NEW Zealand's traditional game has a fledgling following in a very unlikely place.
Following male-dominated Iran's relaxation of social rules in the 1990s, women began playing rugby union.
Auckland-based, Iranian-born, film-maker Faramarz Beheshti, 51, was so fascinated he made a documentary about it.
Salam Rugby will feature at the 2010 New Zealand International Film Festival, which screens until July 25 in Auckland.
"I went to Iran in 2006 to work on another film project that didn't end up happening and I saw by chance a picture of these girls playing rugby," Beheshti told Sunday News.
"I found it kind of charming as an idea so decided to work on it."
Beheshti said the code became so popular that representatives from around Iran gathered for training.
But soon after the birth of the new women's sport, legislation was introduced limiting the amount of contact men could have with women. That made it difficult for a male coach to take part in training.
The film, Salam Rugby, follows the would-be players as they challenge the law so they can compete.
"Sport is one of the few avenues for women in small towns to get out of the house," Beheshti said. "But the available rugby trainers were all men. The past four or five years have severely restricted the development of the women's game.
"The sport has potential in Iran for men, but with women there is a dire need for female coaches."
Beheshti is married to a Kiwi and has lived in New Zealand with their children since 2005, where he gained a passion for the game.
"Growing up in Italy it was all about football."
Beheshti was born in Iran and emigrated to Italy when he was four so had little experience of his birthplace before he made Salam Rugby.
"It gave me the opportunity to meet these wonderful people in this wonderful country. I had a desire to visit Iran properly but I now feel so blessed I have the chance to experience this," he said. And he loves his new homeland. "I love Auckland, I've found my spiritual city. It's beautiful."