Old habits came back to haunt Edinburgh as they collapsed to a 34-16 PRO14 defeat to Zebre, having held a 10-point advantage at half time.

Richard Cockerill’s side travelled to Italy on a high after recording one of the best results of the Englishman's spell in charge last weekend, a 40-14 thrashing of three-time Champions Cup winners Toulon at Murrayfield.

The Englishman urged his side to build on that result with an efficient display at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, but the exasperating inconsistency that has plagued this team over the years reared its head again as an abject second-half performance saw them fall to a fourth league defeat in seven games.

The Edinburgh coach's options diminished when he lost 17 members of his squad to Scotland’s training camp this week, but seven of those players – Darcy Graham, Henry Pyrgos, Ross Ford, Simon Berghan, Luke Hamilton, Luke Crosbie and Dougie Fife – were then released and free to start in Parma.

The home side, led by former Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley, boasted a larger international contingent, with 10 Italy players named in their line-up, as they made just two changes to the team that defeated Bristol Bears in the Challenge Cup last Saturday.

In sharp contrast, 10 fresh faces came into the visitors’ starting team as Cockerill handed a debut to second row Jamie Hodgson, reinstated prop Pierre Schoeman as he returned from a four-week ban and welcomed wing Duhan Van der Merwe back from injury.

Edinburgh went into the game in good form as they targeted a third consecutive PRO14 victory, although history was against them at a venue where Zebre have triumphed in three of their five meetings.

It was the visitors who started strongly though, immediately pinning the Italians inside their own half. It took just six minutes for them to go in front through Simon Hickey’s boot after a period of hard ball carrying from the Scottish pack yielded a penalty.

Edinburgh continued to dominate, patiently going through the phases and racking up the carry count as Zebre’s defence held firm. However, the Italian line was eventually breached after 20 minutes of resistance when centre Chris Dean raced through a gap and delivered a neat offload over his shoulder to send Graham under the posts.

Hickey added the extras to give the visitors a 10-point lead, which they increased further five minutes later when the Kiwi stand-off again capitalised on a penalty by delivering the goods from the kicking tee.

The home side were struggling to get into Edinburgh territory, with poor handling letting them down twice when a chip-kick looked to have opened up space, but they got their first points of the night on the board just before the break through Carlo Canna after the Scots were pinged for not releasing during a rare foray into the Edinburgh half.

Edinburgh’s players filed into the tunnel at half-time having dominated 73 per cent of possession and 84 per cent territory, but with 10 points separating the sides the contest was still far from over.

That was hammered home within just a minute of the restart as Zebre lock David Sisi wheeled out of the grasp of opposite number Callum Hunter-Hill to surge over the line. Canna applied the extras to make it a three-point game again with almost the entire second half still to play.

Edinburgh were immediately back on the attack and soon earned a penalty within kicking range, which Hickey duly converted to take his personal tally for the night to 11 points. Zebre were visibly energised from their early try though and reduced the deficit to three points within a matter of minutes through Canna’s boot as the penalty count racked up.

Zebre’s refusal to drop out of the game was rewarded as they took the lead for the first time on 55 minutes. Canna’s kick looked to be heading safely into the hands of Fife, but the full-back allowed the ball to bounce and it rebounded into the hands of Gabriele Di Giulio, who raced through to put the Italians in front, Canna adding the conversion to give them a four-point lead.

The fly-half extended their advantage further with seven minutes remaining, pouncing on Hickey’s pass to score an interception try and adding the extras himself.

Further misery was compounded on Edinburgh, who had looked bereft of ideas since the break, when Zebre secured the bonus point as captain Tommasso Castello scampered over the whitewash with the final play of the game; the ever-reliable Canna bookending a memorable night for the Italian side with a tricky conversion.

The next test for Edinburgh’s second-string selection comes at home to Scarlets next Friday and a vast improvement will be required if they are to get their league campaign back on track against the Welsh side.