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This study compared the effects of an official rugby match and a fatigue test on the salivary cortisol responses of 13 rugby players. We also examined the relationship between this cortisol response and session ratings of perceived exertion (session-RPE). We collected saliva before and after the match and fatigue test and assessed physical effort intensity via session-RPE using a CR-10 scale. We measured cortisol concentration by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. Results were greater session-RPE and cortisol concentrations for the rugby match, compared with the fatigue test. There was a significant difference between cortisol concentrations obtained pre- and postmatch (p < .022) and significant correlations between cortisol response and session-RPE sampling in both the rugby match (r = .81; p < .001) and fatigue test (r = .91; p < .001). This study provides evidence of greater perceived effort and higher cortisol concentrations in actual competition versus a fatigue test. Our data further support session-RPE as a relatively inexpensive close correlate of a stress biomarker (cortisol response). Thus, session-RPE can be used by coaches as a valid indication of training loads and adequate recovery time after exertion.