Hanekom, who hails from the Northern Cape coastal town of Port Nolloth and plays her provincial rugby for DHL Western Province, entered the field 50 minutes in to become the eighth player to make her international debut this year, and the 166th player to don the Springbok Women jersey.
“It was such a great feeling and relief when I ran onto the field,” said Hanekom, who plays hooker and loosehead prop at times.
“My first job was a lineout and I found the jumper; soon after we had a scrum and we managed to get a massive hit in and dominated that scrum and soon after that, I could get a proper tackle in on defence.
“By that time, I was in the game and really expressing and enjoying myself. The crowd was hectic, but soon I hardly noticed them as I was in the game.”
Hanekom has been on the national radar since 2022, when she was in the wider Rugby World Cup squad. She actually sat on the bench against Zimbabwe in June last year but was not called into action. Shortly after, she was ruled out of World Cup contention due to injury.
“The fact that I benched last year helped a bit with the emotions when we sang the anthem actually – I knew what was coming,” she said.
“I was in tears last year for not being called onto the field, but on Sunday, those memories were wiped out when I finally ran onto the field. Suddenly, all the blood, sweat and tears made sense to me.
“Looking back now, it actually made me stronger and more determined to prove that I can play at this level.”
For Hanekom, who studies Sport and Recreation Management at eta College in Stellenbosch, the best part of the experience was how well she was prepared for her big moment.
“It was great to experience what all the training was about and why, as it all came good for me on the field,” she said.
“Our lineout movement and calls worked, the scrum was great and even that first tackle was spot on. We were introduced to a new technique a couple of weeks ago and it felt really great to execute that and see the result.”
Soon, she hopes, she could go back to Port Nolloth to share a couple of high fives.
“The folks there actually joked that I will become the town's first Springbok and now it has happened” she said with a broad smile.
“When I go there, I would thank those who helped me along the way, gave guidance and advice and just supported me in chasing my dream. It is just sinking in, how much it means if people put their trust in you and you can reward them.”
The Springbok Women will return to South Africa on Monday, having scored 214 points in three matches against Cameroon, Kenya and Madagascar, and only conceded eight. They scored 36 tries and kicked 16 conversions, conceding one try and a penalty goal.