Melbourne - New Zealand captain Richie McCaw played with a broken rib for part of the series against England to help the All Blacks sweep the tourists 3-0, coach Steve Hansen said on Tuesday.
Hansen also confirmed the 33-year-old flank would miss the rest of Super Rugby's regular season in a blow for the Crusaders' hopes of winning a record eighth title.
"Unfortunately he got a broken rib which he did possibly in the second Test, definitely early in the first one, anyway," Hansen told New Zealand's Radio Sport.
"So, just a courageous effort for him to be out there and doing what he does."
Hansen said team doctors had assessed McCaw during the series and just thought the rib was "badly bruised".
"So he played in the last one and he was really sore after that, so obviously he's done some more damage to it in the third Test," he added.
The Crusaders lie third in the tournament and are currently top of the New Zealand conference, leading the Highlanders by three points.
The winners of the New Zealand, Australia and South Africa conferences each qualify for the playoffs, with positions three to six on the final standings across the competition also advancing.
Although long revered in New Zealand, McCaw has had a difficult season and came into the England series under scrutiny after a broken thumb ruled him out of much of the Crusaders' early campaign.
Some pundits questioned his place in the All Blacks lineup and a subdued first Test against England at Eden Park did little to ease doubts.
Hansen was moved to talk to McCaw about the criticism.
"I discussed it with him because it's the first time in his career that he's been criticised," he said.
"Being the competitor he is... you just don't want him to go out there and try too hard.
"He was trying a little too hard and wanted to prove to everybody that he is still a great player and that's the first time he had to deal with it.
"We got an even better performance (from him) in the third (Test) than we got in the first two."
The players' return to their Super Rugby teams dominates the southern hemisphere landscape until the start of the Rugby Championship between New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina in August.
New Zealand's 17th consecutive Test win in the third match against England equalled the record among Tier One nations set by the 1965-69 All Blacks and the 1997-98 South African teams.
Hansen's team can own the Tier One record outright if they beat a resurgent Australia in Sydney in their Rugby Championship opener.
"You're expecting that there will be a day that you do drop one (match), but you're planning not to drop one," Hansen said.